The XX Factor

Kidnapped and Tortured but Trying to Move On in The Never List

After the release of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight from the hellhole of a Cleveland house they were held in for a decade, I wondered a lot about their relationships with one another. Especially as it became clear that they’d been treated differently by their alleged tormentor, Ariel Castro, and probably suffered in a variety of ways and to different degrees.

Maybe one or all of the women will eventually write a memoir, and then we’ll know more. Until then, I have the relationships among the three captive women in Koethi Zan’s debut novel, The Never List, to think about. Zan’s narrative eerily parallels the Cleveland story. That’s an accident, since she wrote the book before the abductions came to light. Zan, who is married to Slate Culture Gabfest host Stephen Metcalf, says she was stunned by the similarities, but it makes this chilling thriller resonate.

Zan’s protagonist, Sarah, is 31 when the book opens. She’s been free from her own abduction for years, but it still reverberates. She can barely leave her apartment. Then her abductor’s upcoming parole hearing spurs her to get in touch with the other two women who shared her years of horror. And it’s their joined-together stories—both the intimacy and the inevitable recriminations—that give this book its emotional zing. I can’t really write about the plot without spoilers, so I won’t. But if you are looking for a page-turning summer read that will make you think about how grown-up women treat each other when they’re in the most desperate straits, pick up this book. It’s about the edge of life, where there is hate, but also love.