In her first adult novel, Seattle writer Deb Caletti has crafted a mesmerizing internal journey for her protagonist, Dani Keller. The story grabs us with the first sentence: "I used to imagine it sometimes, what would happen if one day I just didn't come home." But it isn’t Dani who disappears. She wakes one morning to find her husband gone – from their bed, their Lake Union houseboat, just vanished from her life – with no explanation.
Exquisitely written, the story takes place entirely inside Dani’s head, which is both its greatest strength and its biggest challenge. Maintaining the suspense, Caletti carefully paces our realization of the things that Dani has been hiding from herself regarding her abusive first marriage, the adulterous beginnings of her second, and imperfect relationships in general.
Because of the missing person theme, “He’s Gone” has often been compared with two other recent books: “Gone Girl,” Gillian Flynn’s twisty psychological thriller, and “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” an awkwardly constructed satire, also set in Seattle, by Maria Semple. Despite any superficial similarity, I strongly prefer “He’s Gone” because the characters, though human and flawed, are actually likeable. The only false note was towards the end of the book, when Dani writes her confession – purportedly the words we are reading.
“He’s Gone” is not so much a “missing person” mystery. It’s a mystery that explores what we think and do, in order to avoid facing loneliness and difficult truths. Ultimately, Dani realizes, "When you go looking for rescue, you end up trapped in your own weakness."
In a satisfying conclusion, it’s only after Dani has become stronger and more self-confident, actually picking up the tools to resolve a nagging problem herself, that she finally learns the truth.