Pull Me Under by Kelly Luce was the first book I chose to receive as part of my Book of the Month subscription. (Honestly, if you love books and aren’t subscribed to Book of the Month…you are seriously missing out. It’s like bookish Christmas every month. But I digress.) Immediately, the book description had me aching to read the story of Chizuru/Rio.
“Kelly Luce's Pull Me Under tells the story of Rio Silvestri, who, when she was twelve years old, fatally stabbed a school bully. Rio, born Chizuru Akitani, is the Japanese American daughter of the revered violinist Hiro Akitani--a Living National Treasure in Japan and a man Rio hasn't spoken to since she left her home country for the United States (and a new identity) after her violent crime. Her father's death, along with a mysterious package that arrives on her doorstep in Boulder, Colorado, spurs her to return to Japan for the first time in twenty years. There she is forced to confront her past in ways she never imagined, pushing herself, her relationships with her husband and daughter, and her own sense of who she is to the brink.”
Kelly Luce writes beautifully and the beginning of Rio’s life is so haunting that it wasn’t difficult to get sucked in. The Prologue, simply titled “Before,” is written in the past tense, and there is a real sense of separation between the narrator Rio and child Rio. It feels like the narrator is telling the story of someone else, a stranger locked away for murder. The narrator also keeps the reader at a distance, sharing her story, but never enough to fully allow the reader to put the pieces of her life together. You get the feeling that the adult narrator has not accepted the traumatic parts of her past, and, in the beginning, this distance feels purposeful. Then, just like that, we are whisked into Chapter 1 and into the present tense. The mundane life she is leading with her husband and daughter is sharply juxtaposed against the news she receives of her father’s death, a symbolic representation of the pain of her past and a reminder that she hasn’t fully dealt with it yet. Yet again, even though the story is told in first person, there is a distance.
You may be noticing a pattern—I’m mentioning “distance” a lot. This is because the distance between Rio Silvestri as an adult and her as a child and, separately, the distance between Rio Silvestri and the reader is so vital to how this story is told. However, in this review, this distance is also one of the few problems I had with the book. We, as the reader, are meant to go with Rio on her journey back to Japan for her father’s funeral, but I never felt like I could fully connect with Rio. Even up until the last pages of the book, this distance is palpable between the reader and Rio. Long past when Rio should have been accepting the crime she committed as a child and growing closer to her family, it felt instead like she was holding everyone at arm’s length, including the reader. I’m not sure if this was the author’s intention, or if Kelly Luce simply didn’t manage the tension the way she should have. Either way, it made the book, particularly the last third, drag a bit. I wanted to shake Rio at times and beg her to just come clean. REVEAL YOUR SECRETS! Rio is a woman who, as a child, murdered someone. That must carry a lot of weight, and I felt like she never gave it more than a few passing thoughts of regret. Frankly, I wanted more. I wanted more emotion, more connection, and more of a change.
Issues aside, I really enjoyed this reading experience. Every character felt vivid and unique, even if they only played a minor role in the plot, and the slow reveal of Rio’s past and the life of her father since she’d last seen him helped to keep the tension building. Overall, I would recommend Pull Me Under, but I’d caution any would-be readers to keep their expectations relatively low and try to savor Kelly Luce’s beautiful writing.