By Paullina Simons
Lilianne Quinn (Lily for short) has led a fairly average and unremarkable life. She more or less makes it through college in 6 years, with one class left before she graduates. Her older siblings are much older than her with well-established families, and her parents have retired in Hawaii. Nothing too exciting, nothing too difficult. All of this is par for the course when Lily leaves to visit her parents, but then everything changes. She receives a call from Detective Spencer O’Malley asking about the last time she saw her roommate, Amy. According to Detective O’Malley, Amy was last seen alive three weeks ago, right around the time when Lily left for Hawaii. All of a sudden Lily’s life is turned upside down. Her best friend and roommate seems to have vanished without a trace, and no leads for where to begin searching for her. While Detective O’Malley has worked missing persons cases for years, this one is remarkable in many ways. Amy isn’t the average runaway or child lost to trafficking. As he digs and digs at the only potential lead, Lily’s older brother, Lily finds herself confused, overwhelmed, and utterly out of her depth at these strange and unexplained circumstances.
“The Girl in Times Square” by Paullina Simons tells the stories of people who are lost, literally and figuratively. The story center’s on Amy’s absence, bringing together a cast of disparate characters each struggling with their own demons. Detective O’Malley’s dedication to the missing persons unit provides a convenient cover for his troubled past and oddly isolated present. Lily’s parents are barely able to offer perfunctory support to her while they grapple with overwhelming free time in retirement. Lily herself feels stuck and directionless, refusing to move on without Amy and simultaneously refusing to acknowledge her own stubbornness about doing so. Simons writes these characters in such a way as to emphasize and reinforce one another. Struggles and difficulties for one character are echoed or experienced exactly by another character. While the novel follows individual storylines, it also weaves them together around the central theme of Amy’s disappearance and coming to terms with the reality of changing and unknown circumstances. By starting with extensive exposition and writing from the perspective of multiple characters, Simons gives depth and detail to the characters, resulting in relatable, intriguing characters that wholly captivate the reader.
This book did eventually pick up speed to the point where I didn’t want to put it down, but it took a lot of exposition to get there. Probably halfway through the (600-page) book, the storyline finally started to come together in a way that I wanted to know the ending. Another interesting aspect of the novel is that it was written in 1999 and set in New York City, so it makes several references to locations and events that were altered in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001, which gave me a funny dual perspective between the reality of the novel and the reality of “in real life.” This is an enjoyable book if you have the time and patience for it.