2021 got you down? Sick and tired of global pandemics, environmental collapse and the dystopian social mores of the internet? Then I might have just the book for you: Lisa Unger’s newest thriller, “Last Girl Ghosted.”
This hair-raising tale follows New Yorker Wren Greenwood, author of a popular advice column, down a dangerous rabbit hole that begins when she meets Adam through an dating app called Torch. (Does that sound a bit ominous? It should). Wren falls hard for this serious, soft-spoken, cybersecurity specialist, who seems so different from the endless parade of self-promoters she’s met online. They even share a favorite poet: brilliant and broody Ranier Maria Rilke, whose lines Unger weaves throughout the novel. One night, she takes a daring step, revealing a long-buried secret.
Wren bares her soul. Then Adam, leaving only a cryptic text message, disappears. Determined not to be ghosted, Wren follows a trail of clues to private eye Bailey Kirk. As she inches closer to Adam, Wren must reckon not only with the terrors of her past, but with the realties of her future.
With its brisk pace and layered characters (including an “imaginary friend” from Wren’s childhood), “Last Girl Ghosted” is enjoyable, even as it pushes all your fright buttons. Wren narrates in present tense, often directly to the missing Adam (“Your eyes linger on me as you close the door”) creating a poignant sense of immediacy and loss. The story’s contemporary texture mixes with classic themes such as jealousy and betrayal, family conflict, fate and redemption – perhaps not a surprise for an author who lists among her greatest influences Charlotte Brontë, Stephen King and Truman Capote.
But how will this help with the 2021 blues?
“Last Girl Ghosted” isn’t so much escape from our weird historical moment as it is immersion therapy. It plunges right into the undercurrents of loneliness, anxiety, and inhumanity that run through our headlines and our hearts, exploring a world in which hook-ups are the norm, emotional connections are elusive and the pursuit of romance requires you to master the art of emotional (and sometimes physical) self-defense.
Fiction, as Unger points out, can be a powerful way to process frightening realities.
“I have always turned to the page to metabolize the darkness and chaos I perceive in the world,” she reflects. And I see what she’s saying: As Wren’s heartbreak transforms into a quest for justice – a riveting pursuit that winds through shady spaces in the city and down lonesome country roads, as well as into the wilderness of the dark web – I see the outlines of our real-life search for trust and intimacy in a world where technology has changed the ways we connect to others.
Following Wren through the novel’s dark twists and turns might just shed a light on the darkness itself – and it will reward with the novel’s positively electrifying conclusion. Enter if you dare, readers.
You might just feel better if you do.