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Monday, August 20, 2012

The Girl in the Portrait by Rekha Ambardar

The Girl in the Portrait by Rekha Ambardar
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (14 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewer: Astilbe

Peggy Maynard goes down to the basement one morning to find her husband working on the painting of a young woman. He covers the painting as if to conceal it from her. Then, one day, both Will and the painting disappear from her home and from her life. This initiates a long journey of self-searching, while Peggy wonders why she didn’t see warning signs in her marriage, why she didn’t leave him before.

One day, Detective Byers, who’s on the case, tracks down a doctor who attended a former student of Will’s – Irma Vasquez. Eighteen years prior, she had a baby, and it appears the father is Will.

Peggy's search for her missing husband leads her to Queretaro, Mexico, where a startling discovery forces her to decide what her relationship with Will was truly made of, or if they ever really had one.

How well do you know your spouse? After twenty-five years together Peggy thought she knew everything about her husband Will but when he disappears under mysterious circumstances she’s forced to reexamine her assumptions.

I was sucked into this mystery before the first paragraph ended. Peggy’s conversation with the police officer investigating her husband’s disappearance expertly wove her anxiety, grief and fear into a few short sentences. It’s difficult to accurately portray the mixed, occasionally conflicting emotions the average person experiences when being interviewed about an alleged or potential crime but Ms. Ambardar captures this experience beautifully.

Peggy and Will’s relationship is described as “mellow.” They’ve been a couple for many years and while they care for one another their chemistry isn’t particularly passionate or romantic. While I’ve known people who ended up in this sort of situation there was something about Peggy and Will’s interactions that never quite felt genuine. Peggy’s memories of their years together made their arrangement sound more like a business decision than two people falling in love and creating a life together.

To be honest I expected it to end with the revelation that these characters were a lesbian and gay or bisexual man who married one another to give the appearance of heterosexuality. Had they been involved in a plot that wasn’t concerned with love and marriage this wouldn’t have been an issue but my misunderstanding of the nature of their relationship did dampen my enthusiasm for this story.

The actual ending wrapped up enough plot points to satisfy this reader but I still walked away from it wondering why Peggy and Will chose to remain together for so many years. This puzzled me so much I reread the story and was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying it more the second time around when I could enjoy these characters for the individuals they were instead of spending so much time thinking about what I thought they should be doing instead.

The Girl in the Portrait can be read in one sitting. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a compelling mystery that is not easily solved and grows better each time you read it.

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