Myra and Herb run a small run-down motel on the Oregon coast, an inn that was owned by Myra’s parents. She’s never wanted to leave. But 20 years ago, her 8 year old daughter Charlotte went missing one night from a beach party where she’d gone with her sister Gwen, 8 years older. Myra never got over it. She’s convinced Charlotte is still alive, and scans the faces of each visitor to see if her daughter has returned. In the past, she’s made some mistakes. But this time, she’s sure. This is Charlotte, her long-lost daughter, standing before her with her arms wrapped around a little boy, both obviously in shock and fleeing for their lives. The woman pushes an ID, obviously fake, across the counter to Myra. The card reads “Elizabeth Lark.”
Is Elizabeth really Charlotte? She looks enough like Myra’s oldest daughter Gwen to be her sister, and she carries the necklace with Charlotte’s initials that Charlotte was wearing the night she disappeared. Myra allows herself to trust. Her husband and other 2 children watch warily.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth and her son, Theo, are fleeing an abusive man who has kept them locked up in a remote mountain cabin for years. It took a lot of planning for Elizabeth to be able to escape, and the woman who helped her, Alice, can’t understand why Elizabeth has stopped at this inn. I’m going to give away one of the early twists, so stop reading this paragraph if you don’t want a spoiler!! Elizabeth remembers the inn well, from when her mother worked there as a maid when she was a little girl. She remembers Gwen and Charlotte as well. She visits the trailer where she and her mother lived until her mother died of cancer when Elizabeth was 18.
Don’t worry that I’ve spoiled the book. This is still just the beginning. This story has as many curves and twists as a logging road hugging the side of an Oregon mountain, and I didn’t see them coming.
Author Melissa Colasanti does a good job with character development (although her writing style tends to short sentences, which I find distracting). Her depiction of a family shaped around the loss of a child, including the guilt-driven eldest child turned perfectionist, is well done. I cared about the characters, even as I turned the pages faster and faster to find out who the mysterious background figure is, and why.
Call Me Elizabeth Lark is a really enjoyable read, perfect for an afternoon at the beach or a long airplane ride.
Melissa Colasanti is a mother and an author. She has a BFA in fiction from Boise State University. Her writing has appeared in Lithub, Memoir Magazine, The Coffin Bell Journal and others. She is the Stephen R. Kustra scholar in creative writing for 2019, and was awarded the Glenn Balch Award for fiction in 2020.