Hold Tight, Harlan Coben, Dutton, $26.95.
Coben's title refers to the instruction every parent on the planet has given their small child when crossing the street or walking through a crowd: hold tight. Coben, master of depicting modern suburbia, is also a master at imagining the kind of things that blow a normal family apart in the most wrenching way possible. In his new novel, parents Mike and Tia Baye are worried about their 16 year old son Adam, who has changed since the suicide of his best friend, Spencer. Adam has quit the hockey team - a passion he had shared with his father - and is uncommunicative and depressed, often disappearing without telling his parents where he's gone. Mike and Tia do something they don't want to do: they install spyware on his computer, monitoring every electronic communication he has, as the tech puts it, in "real time". Their action leads, more or less, to everything else that happens in the book.
It's no secret that a Coben plot is a machine - he has such a gift with narrative suspense it's virtually impossible to put one of his books down once you've picked it up. As the disparate threads of the plot wind together towards the end, closing the book is not an option. The parallel, yet ultimately intersecting plot lines, involve the sadistic murders of two seemingly blameless suburban women; the efforts of Mike's next door neighbor to find a kidney donor for her son; Mike's involvement with the neighbor, as Mike is a doctor; and the alienation of a little girl named Yasmin who is the best friend of Mike's daughter Jill. The plot driver is the disappearance of Adam, who has apparently dropped off the face of the planet, though Mike uses the GPS in Adam's cell phone to track him into a pretty unsavory neighborhood in New York city. As Mike and Tia become gradually more desperate, what they're willing to do to find their son keeps crossing the lines of trust until the lines are nearly broken beyond repair.
In Coben's talented hands this story becomes an examination of trust in the parent / child relationship, and the degree to which you need to give your children freedom in order for them to grow up. Recently I was at my 30th high school reunion - I was a graduate of the class of 1977 - and we were talking about the relative freedom we had as teenagers. Today's children don't seem to have that same type of freedom, and it's something my classmates and I lamented. Coben is writing a kind of elegy for the this same kind of freedom (and I think that though he's a few years younger we are still of the same general generation). What side he comes out on remains for the reader to discover - but don't worry, you won't think about the message while you're reading the book. It may hit you later. As always this is a rocket powered read with no dead spaces in the narrative; for that alone Coben deserves respect. He also gets a valentine from me for getting my 14 year old son passionate about reading. This one had him in his room, door shut, with instructions to be left alone. Thank you, Mr. Coben.
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