“The Chalk Girl” by Carol O’Connell

O’Connell, Carol. The Chalk Girl (2011)
Audiobook by Recorded Books  
Narrated by Barbara Rosenblat 

When a little red-haired girl with blue eyes shows up in Central Park and hugs everyone who will let her, psychologist Charles Butler’s cleaning woman, Mrs. Ortega, knows something is amiss. She takes the little girl to Butler’s house, where he tries to figure out who the girl is and how she ended up in Central Park apparently all alone. The girl doesn’t know her name or where she came from, but, she tells Butler, she knows her uncle turned into a tree. Everyone thinks the girl is delusional—until the police find a man in a sack hung in a tree.

Interspersed throughout the story are quotations attributed to a named character whose significance the reader doesn’t learn until well into the novel. In fact, the story builds around bizarre and seemingly unrelated events that do not begin to fall together until well into the novel. Carol O’Connell frequently includes such strangeness in her novels, but in this one the author comes up just short of going too far. Just as I found myself getting exasperated with the lack of any connecting threads between events and characters, the disparate parts did begin to fall together. In the end, everything made sense, but getting there was at times annoying.

By far the most intriguing plot element in the novel is Detective Mallory’s interaction with the little girl. Each recognizes the other as a kindred spirit, and the little girl will do anything to win and keep Mallory’s love. Mallory, in her own way, does what she can for the girl, but Mallory and Butler engage in an on-going argument over what is in the child’s best interests. Nonetheless, Mallory uncharacteristically reveals a soft spot in her heart for the little girl who, like Mallory years earlier, found herself all alone and vulnerable in New York City.

© 2012 by Mary Daniels Brown

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