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Where They Found Her Summary
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight.
Where They Found Her is a 2017 work of psychological fiction by Kimberly McCreight. It concerns the town of Ridgedale, New Jersey, and the public mystery of the discovery of an unidentified infant’s body near a university campus. After the discovery, the town’s residents produce a multitude of theories, and clash over the veracity of any singular story. The novel is known for combining psychological suspense with a public response, rather than solely relying on individuals’ experiences. McCreight utilizes an episodic plot structure from multiple points of view to develop her audience’s sense of the public’s multifaceted attitudes towards the mystery.
The novel begins as Molly Anderson, a town newcomer and journalist working as a freelance, is tapped by the local Ridgedale Reader to cover the story of the discovered baby. It is six months after moving out of New York City, and she has just started to become comfortable as the mother of a five year old girl and an amateur arts columnist. She is initially conflicted over whether she should cover it, believing it may cause the resurgence of the trauma she experienced over the loss of her second child. Yet, despite the objections of her worried husband, Anderson decides she cannot pass up on the chance to prove her caliber as a journalist.
The story slowly begins to alternate between the perspectives of Anderson; Barbara, the Ridgedale police chief’s wife, whose obsession with public image clashes with her unruly son; and Sandy, a 16 year old high school dropout with a dysfunctional family. Sandy is hit with a major problem when her mother, a woman with a difficult mental health history, vanishes without any clues of her whereabouts. Barbara and Steve, her husband, are tiger parent figures for their daughter and disciplinarians for their son. Barbara struggles with accepting both of her children, constantly criticizing their lives when they don’t match up to her ideal. The final point of view is given by the journal entries of Sandy’s mysterious mother, which go as far back as 1994.
The narratives of the other townspeople are backgrounded in Anderson’s continuous effort to uncover the mystery of the buried child. After some time sifting through the town’s archives and interviewing residents, she finds that a series of sexual assaults dating back two decades had gone on unreported. She traces the string of assaults along an eccentric arc through the town’s history, learning how to make a place that suppresses much of its truth finally agree to speak. In a climactic turn, Anderson finds that the baby was murdered by her husband, Steve. He had engaged in an affair with local high school student Sandy and accidentally impregnated her. When the baby was born, he convinced her to give it up to salvage both of their reputations and rid themselves of responsibility. The girl’s mother, Jenna, runs into Barbara, the high school’s PTO chair and purveyor of gossip; the story implies that Barbara deliberately gets her into a car accident.
Anderson forces Steve to confess to the crime. He pleads guilty to a charge of voluntary manslaughter in the death of Simon Barton. The book briefly touches on the court proceedings, where the judge states that he intends to pursue a large sentence. Jenna, less crazy and unhinged than originally implied through Sandy’s point of view, sends Sandy out into the world, believing that she needs to learn how to improve herself independently. Yet, it is suggested that the various conclusions that precipitate out of Where They Found Her will never right the original crimes and mistakes that each character put out into the world. This irrevocability of action is central to McCreight’s novel, and at its end, she sends its characters forth into an unknown but likely difficult future, now equipped with experience that will hopefully compel them to act differently.