cover image Disappearing Earth

Disappearing Earth

Julia Phillips. Knopf, $26.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-525-52041-2

In the opening chapter of Phillips’s exceptional and suspenseful debut, two sisters—Sofia, 8, and Alyona, 11—vanish from a beach on the Kamchatka Peninsula in northeastern Russia, and their disappearance sends ripples throughout the close-knit community. The subsequent 12 chapters, taking place during the months over the following year, chart the impact of the potential kidnapping—and the destructive effect of longing and loss—and play out in a series of interconnected and equally riveting stories about others in the surrounding area. “April” peeks into the day-to-day of a policeman’s restless wife, who, while on maternity leave, is haunted by missed opportunities and “[craves] things darker, stranger, out of bounds.” In “May,” shrewlike Oksana, the abduction’s only witness, severs ties with a colleague after the colleague’s absentminded husband loses Oksana’s beloved dog. The penultimate chapter unites some of the book’s disparate threads, and follows Sofia and Alyona’s anxious and emotionally ravaged mother, Marina, as she meets a photographer at a solstice festival who uncovers a potential link to an earlier unsolved missing-persons case and an important clue about who the perpetrator of both crimes might be. The discovery leads to a truly nail-biting climax and the novel’s shocking conclusion that even eagle-eyed readers might not see coming. Phillips’s exquisite descriptions of the desolate landscape and the “empty, rolling earth” are masterful throughout, as is her skill at crafting a complex and genuinely addictive whodunit. This novel signals the arrival of a mighty talent. [em]Agent: Suzanne Gluck, WME Entertainment. (May) [/em]