Etta

Review: What Could Be Saved? (ARC)

Expected publication: January 12th 2021, 448 pages

Author: Liese O’Halloran Schwarz

Washington, DC, 2019: Laura Preston is a reclusive artist at odds with her older sister Bea as their elegant, formidable mother slowly slides into dementia. When a stranger contacts Laura claiming to be her brother who disappeared forty years earlier when the family lived in Bangkok, Laura ignores Bea’s warnings of a scam and flies to Thailand to see if it can be true. But meeting him in person leads to more questions than answers.

Bangkok, 1972: Genevieve and Robert Preston live in a beautiful house behind a high wall, raising their three children with the help of a cadre of servants. In these exotic surroundings, Genevieve strives to create a semblance of the life they would have had at home in the US–ballet and riding classes for the children, impeccable dinner parties, a meticulously kept home. But in truth, Robert works for American intelligence, Genevieve finds herself drawn into a passionate affair with her husband’s boss, and their serene household is vulnerable to unseen dangers in a rapidly changing world and a country they don’t really understand.

Alternating between past and present as all of the secrets are revealed, What Could Be Saved is an unforgettable novel about a family shattered by loss and betrayal, and the beauty that can exist even in the midst of brokenness. 

I was lucky enough to receive this novel in a Goodreads giveaway! Although it is outside my usual realm of contemporary romance novels, it was still a fantastic read. I was not expecting to like this novel as; again, it’s not in my usual wheelhouse. This novel is told in duel timelines, which is also not typically my go to type of story. Although both time periods were well-done, it was difficult to enjoy them both equally as I favored the historical more than the contemporary. The settings are in Bangkok, Thailand and Washington D.C. which are both well described so the reader is transported to each location. Although I’ve visited both places, I have not spent extended periods of time at either location so it was exciting to read about them through the eyes of the characters.

Our historical portion takes place in the early 1970s where American Robert Preston embarks on a project to work in Bangkok. He brings along his wife, Genevieve, and their three children, two girls named Laura and Bea and a son named Philip. They live in upper society behind closed gates and walls and typically only interact with those like them. They are living in a foreign county while trying maintaining the same lifestyle they had in America. Life in Thailand seems to be going well for them until one day Philip disappears without a trace and a search for him yields no results.  Eventually, the Preston family returns, without Philip, back to their life in Washington D.C. to hopefully find a way to move on from this tragedy.

The story then moves on to more modern-day, 2019, in Washington D.C. where the Preston family is now older and the two girls are now grown-up.  Laura is now in her mid-50s and an artist. One day she receives a message that someone has information about Philip. She tries to share this with her sister, but her sister wants nothing to do with it.  Laura decides to pursue this tip and flies to Bangkok to try and find out more about the mystery surrounding her brother’s disappearance.  As time goes by, more and more secrets are revealed and we get glimpses into the past as the mystery unfolds.

The prose is well done on the author’s part as the writing is beautiful. The overall flow can be hard to follow sometimes as one minute you seem to be in the present and then next you’re in the part before returning to the present. This meant as a reader that I had to focus a little more than usual in order to make sure that I was fully understanding the story and following along well. It’s not impossible to understand, but it just takes a little more attention than usual. The writer does a fantastic job of revealing the secrets that surround the family as they come out naturally and the reader can use them to piece together the puzzle surrounding the main mystery. The writer also does a great job writing about family in general as you gain an understanding of the dynamic between all of the family members in both the past and present timelines.

Overall, this story is very well-written. Although it is a little longer than an average novel, the pages actually fly by and you’re well on your way through before you know it! It is slow in some places, especially as the characters and settings are established, but they do pick-up as the events move forward and eventually you reach the thrilling conclusion. I found myself connecting to the characters in some places and then losing that connection in others so I never fully clicked with any of them by the time I reached the end. Luckily, this did not affect my overall enjoyment of the story as I as enthralled more with the events than the characters themselves.  Although not perfect, it’s still an amazing rich story that illustrates the dynamics siblings can face. A great that I would recommend for others to try!

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