Photographer Abby Mason and her fiance’s daughter, six-year-old Emma, are enjoying the day at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. Abby stops to photograph a dead baby seal, a diversion that lasts maybe 20 or 40 seconds – seconds that will replay endlessly in Abby’s mind during the next year; a few seconds that were long enough for Emma to disappear. When Emma isn’t immediately found, the assumption is that she must have drowned in the unpredictable currents. Most people give up, but Abby continues to believe that Emma is out there – she just needs to be found.
Memory plays a big part in this story, as Abby examines how we remember things, confabulation (filling in gaps in memory with fabrications that one believes to be facts) and how memories disappear. Abby struggles to find Emma, struggles to keep her relationship with Emma’s father and struggles to understand why Emma’s mother, who has been absent from the little girl’s life for three years, is back in a picture that has no Emma.
The plot recalls Jacquelyn Mitchard’s Deep End of the Ocean, but I think this book does much more on a literary level. The writing is spare, managing to be more vivid and emotional than you assume. My friend Susan said it’s “underwritten,” and that is a perfect description. Emotion, too, is off the pages, as if hiding in the margins and waiting to unfold in your head. The Year of Fog has a perfect balance of story and underlying philosophical ideas.