If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin
If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin brings psychological suspense stories to a whole new level. The focus of the plot emphasizes the relationship between parents and children and how social media plays a role. The I-GEN generation characters that keep secrets and isolate themselves, allows readers to realize it is sometimes impossible for parents to really know their children.
The plot begins with Wade, a teenager’s, suicide note, then flashes back five days and unfolds from the perspectives of Jackie, Connor, Pearl, and Amy Nathanson. Amy files a police report claiming that she was car jacked by a teenage boy. Another boy, Liam, rushes to help and is hit by the car. The case quickly consumes social media, transforming Liam, a local high school football star, into a folk hero, and the suspect, a high school outcast named Wade Reed, into a depraved would-be killer. His mother, Jackie, and brother Connor, are convinced Wade is innocent, but must face their own life changes as they too are seen as pariahs.
Gaylin has the uncanny ability to develop likeable and dysfunctional characters. A shining character in the story is police officer Pearl Maze. She has problems that must be worked out with her father. But as a cop she is very astute at realizing there is more to the crime than meets the eye and she is a great judge of personality. Suspense ratchets up as Pearl tries to figure out if Wade is innocent or guilty.
Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for the story?
Alison Gaylin: Years ago, my daughter’s classmate had their brother involved in a hit and run. The story got spun way out of control by the children. They twisted it into something it was not with a hero and a villain. I became fascinated on how things caught on and rumors spread became truths.
EC: It seems you like to address the impact of social media in your stories?
AG: I think it can be the fastest route to fiction. Everybody uses it. Rumors spread and lies get told. For example, Wade is described as a devil worshiper who kills animals. It keeps getting repeated and then everyone thinks it is true. This potential for lying and bullying on social media is very frightening to me. A lie can take hold and get repeated so often that it becomes “fact,” all in a matter of hours. One simple google search and up it comes. In the book, Wade becomes infamous overnight as a result of that lethal mixture of small town gossip and social media.
EC: What would you say is the theme?
AG: Secrets. I write about secrets in most of my books. We really do not fully know someone. There are characters in this book who are willing to let others go down just to make sure their secret does not get out. What I like to do when I start writing is to find out everyone’s secrets. In this book, I felt for Jackie because I am also the parent of teenage children. I love writing a twisting plot, but this is probably my most character-driven novel. A lot of the twists come out of characters lying to each other and to themselves.
EC: Do you think you explore the I-Gen generation in this story?
AG: The role music plays is very important. Jackie speaks in the book about how she blasted the punk music as a child and her parents yelling to turn it down. Children today are the opposite. They always play their music with their headphones on. It is scary how this generation has isolated itself. Even social media has it so they do not communicate verbally. The one good piece of social media is that we might be able to intervene. There have been incidents when my children have told us about what they have read, including someone posting suicidal thoughts, and we were able to inform the parents. In the old days with a diary no one might have known. I think our parents yearned for quiet time, while today, we as parents want our children to communicate verbally.
EC: Music also plays a role in the story?
AG: Jackie loved Bob Marley and punk music, the same music I did. Connor was into rap music like Kanye West. I think the music you listen to tells who you are and plays a part of someone’s life.
EC: You also touch on the issue of divorce?
AG: Jackie and the boys got dealt a really hard blow when her husband and their father decides to have a do-over. He offered no emotional support. I put in the Wade quote, ‘You wear grief like it’s the latest fashion. You don’t care deeply enough about anything or anyone to really feel the pain of loss.’ I think any relationship is similar to the loss we feel when someone dies. It is a similar grief. Wade’s father was no longer in his life even though he did not die. Even the detective Pearl feels that she lost her father after her mother died because he was no longer there for her.
EC: Will you bring back Pearl in another book?
AG: Maybe. I am thinking of writing a Pearl novella. I can definitely see a possibility of doing a series with her. I wrote her backstory because I’ve always been haunted by the stories I’ve read about toddlers picking up guns and accidentally killing a parent, wondering about what effect that would have on the child. In writing Pearl, I saw an opportunity to introduce that idea. She describes herself as, ‘a murderer before she could even read.’ I imagined what toll that could take on an otherwise level-headed person. Pearl is a complicated young woman who tends to isolate herself from others. Overall, she is a basically good and moral person and a keen judge of character.
EC: Your next book?
AG: Pearl will not be in it. It is titled Closure. It alternates between the 1970s and the 1950s when a woman discovers that her mother might be a co-killer. If I Die Tonight emphasizes the question on how well do we know our children, while the next book is about how well do we really know our parents.
If I Die Tonight
Late one night in the quiet Hudson Valley town of Havenkill, a distraught woman stumbles into the police station—and lives are changed forever.
Aimee En, once a darling of the ’80s pop music scene, claims that a teenage boy stole her car, then ran over another young man who’d rushed to help.
As Liam Miller’s life hangs in the balance, the events of that fateful night begin to come into focus. But is everything as it seems?
The case quickly consumes social media, transforming Liam, a local high school football star, into a folk hero, and the suspect, a high school outcast named Wade Reed, into a depraved would-be killer. But is Wade really guilty? And if he isn’t, why won’t he talk?
Told from a kaleidoscope of viewpoints—Wade’s mother Jackie, his younger brother Connor, Aimee En and Pearl Maze, a young police officer with a tragic past, If I Die Tonight is a story of family ties and dark secrets—and the lengths we’ll go to protect ourselves.