Nothing Can Hurt You by Nicole Maye Goldberg

Published by Bloomsbury

Nothing Can Hurt you is not your average crime thriller, in that it’s not an investigation of a crime, nor a thriller. Rather, it’s a series of chapters focusing on different characters with either tenuous or close connections to one Sara Morgan, a young woman murdered in 1997. It’s a total deconstruction, if you will, of your typical psychological whodunnit; although it’s been marketed as such, Gone Girl it is not.

Twelve distinct voices encircle the story of the murdered girl; each chapter is a vignette, a short story contained within itself that interconnect with each other. They take place at various moments through time, along Sara’s lifetime, to just before and even well after the murder.

We learn early on who committed the crime; this is one of the major hinges on which some of the characters turn. The first chapter opens with Marianne, a recent arrival in the college town in which the crime was committed; it’s not until the very end that the connection with Sara is revealed.

Before that, it’s a story of a depressed housewife who suffers a violation by a houseguest; Marianne’s whole world and personality are so well woven and constructed within the fifteen pages we have with her that it’s almost a shock when the baton is passed on to the next narrative, which is taken up by Katherine, a young woman in a rehab facility in Florida.

Some of the chapters are written in the first person, some in the third, some even from a closer point of view of another character in the proximity of the chapter’s subject. One standout section is a series of one-sided letters from a teenager, who had been babysat by Sara as a child, to a serial killer, a man who would have been a suspect in Sara’s murder had he not been in jail at the time.

Some are more impersonal or detached than others, according to how close they were to the crime. Goldberg does a really good, subtle job of distinguishing the effect this death has had on the various characters; some are either relatively dispassionate or quietly furious, haunted by the case, determined by their closeness geographically or personally to Sara’s death.

Others are mired in guilt and grief, anger or forgiveness; it’s a very unique and unexpected way of telling a story, and the experiment certainly pays off. Each voice is distinct, and each character comes to life on the page with moments of terrible anguish or dark humour; everyone gets their say and it’s up to the reader to figure out whose opinion, both innate and learned, matters most, or if at all.

Some of the characters on the periphery of Sara’s life, and indeed death, are the most interesting to dissect. There’s a local journalist covering the trial of her killer, trying to reconcile the motive with the murder and the strategy of the defence. There’s the prosecutor of the case, sceptical but relatively open minded, who we follow one evening after after hours where she works the case from her bed.

It’s amazing what the writer can fit into each short story, and maybe it’s the common thread that facilitates that. The link to Sara is stronger in narrative in some of the stories than others; her half-sister Luna features heavily in one and is from her point of view in another, and it’s very illuminating to see the character from two different sides.

While each chapter could, in effect, be read out of order, there’s a coherence that goes with where each individual story is placed, particularly the first and last. The final story belongs to Sara, and takes place long before her life is cut short. It’s a stirring way to end the book, and is instrumental in leaving the entire work ato the forefront of your mind for some time after finishing.

Sara’s story, told by the chorus of twelve, goes to show the reach someone can have, even if you’ve never met them, and the long-lasting effect their life, and death, can have on a wide scale.

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