Graynier, Massachusetts doesn’t make much of a first impression. There’s “no design or reason for anything to be where it is.” Wandering down its “anarchic streets” might get you “to the heart of Graynier, which is noteworthy because there is no heart. No center. Businesses are scattered among residential neighborhoods, with no attention to zoning.” Not only is there no there there (to cite Gertrude Stein’s observation about Oakland), there’s no there everywhere. But it is freeway close.
And that just happens to be good enough for vacationing but rudderless website designer Brett Sampson, who, on a mission to bond with his accompanying but estranged 10-year-old son Collin, thinks giving in to an impulse to take the exit less traveled – the only one that happens to lead into Graynier — will make all the difference. As he looks ahead for accommodations, a quick glance in the rear view mirror would have told him that – to paraphrase Bob Dylan – “the past was close behind.” And gaining speed.
And it’s not the solace of recollection and nostalgia catching-up. Get your warm and fuzzy somewhere else: Sarah Kernochan’s highly original and unpredictable Jane Was Here is not your father’s horror story. Its inexorably harrowing and impelling forces drive a storyline about reincarnation, ghostly presences, the paranormal, and matters of misery, mystery, and imagination raring to overwhelm the denizens of an anti-Mayberry locale in which an enigmatic and ethereal young woman calling herself Jane shows up at Brett and Collin’s rented Victorian house. After she starts making claims that it was her childhood home — and alluding to some memories of growing up in the town she has never been to before in her life – she increasingly insinuates herself into the Sampsons’ lives. So much for Brett and Collin at the ol’ fishin’ hole.
But this is not going to be the one that gets away. Virtually ignoring his wayward and willful son – who really couldn’t be happier about his new freedom anyway — the intrigued Brett find himself more and more engaged in another kind of expedition, helping Jane delve into the eerie mystery of who she was and seemingly is, and by extension, exploring the book’s thematic bearing of yesterday upon today. It's not exactly a fruitless endeavor either, as it turns out, for Jane’s memories reawaken a long-buried and startling secret, revealing a link to an attractive girl who vanished from Graynier in 1853.