Local Author Jessica Strawser Releases Third Tale of Domestic Suspense

"Forget You Know Me" leaves you piecing fractured bits of narrative together when this trio of friends’ façade finally cracks. It begs the question: What can be salvaged, if anything, when the screen goes black?

click to enlarge Jessica Strawser. author of "Forget You Know Me." - Corrie Schaffeld
Corrie Schaffeld
Jessica Strawser. author of "Forget You Know Me."
Jessica Strawser’s third novel, Forget You Know Me, descends straight into fast-paced tension. Two childhood friends — Liza and Molly — sit down to video chat over wine, painting glossier versions of their respective lives with forced smiles. As Molly leaves momentarily to check on her kids, Liza gets a glimpse of an intruder at Molly’s house. Everything goes black.

But when Liza calls the cops and rushes to her friend’s aid — driving all the way from Chicago to Cincinnati — she’s met with agitation from Molly. From there, everything unravels. The novel itself deals with navigating adult relationships: the two friends aren’t as close as they once were; Molly’s marriage is unraveling; Liza misses her hometown, Cincinnati, which she left for a job in The Windy City.

“This catalyst at the beginning of the book is going to make everybody sit up and confront things they’ve been sweeping under the rug for too long, for better or for worse,” Strawser says. “And it’s going to have to shake out and either go one way or the other. When you reach that point when you grow apart from somebody you care about — is there a way back from that? Is there a way to turn that around?”

Those concepts drive the plot forward. By weaving between three points of view — Liza, Molly and Daniel, Molly’s husband — Strawser creates a quilted character study. From a bird’s eye view, the reader must knit together the disparate threads of friendship gone awry.

Her first two novels (Not That I could Tell and Almost Missed You) tread similar themes, and all interweave narratives; she dubs the overarching genre as “domestic suspense.”

“All three of my novels so far have been about family and marriage, but also friendship,” Strawser says. “What was different in this novel was depicting a friendship that had really just been growing apart.”

Perhaps it’s this element that makes the characters most relatable. They’re smacked with full-blown adulthood. Kids. Jobs. Marriages. Looming uncertainty about one’s life trajectory. It may be angst-riddled existential stuff, but it’s also reality.

“It can be a bittersweet thing,” she says of the evolving nature of adult friendships. “I think these friends have grown apart to the point where they’re either just going to let it go or somebody’s going to make a real effort to reverse what has happened between them.”

Strawser, who is the editor-at-large for Writer’s Digest magazine, was recently named the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s writer-in-residence. She calls it “an amazing resource for local aspiring writers as well as avid readers” that will allow her to offer workshops, monthly office hours and take over as host of the podcast Inside the Writer’s Head.

It’s work she’s excited to do in her own backyard. And despite being a transplant to the Queen City — she’s originally from Pittsburgh — Strawser’s fondness for the city is evident in her novels. Locals will recognize a few spots in Forget You Know Me. Among them are Lunken Airport and its onsite restaurant, Sky Galley, and the Cincinnati Nature Center, where she actually wrote sections of the novel.

“It’s one of my favorite places to write, so it’s cool to be sitting in the location when you’re trying to picture the characters and conjure what they go through,” she says. “I think it’s a really meaningful place to a lot of people. So I hope that I was able to make it meaningful to my character, Molly.”

Strawser was able to beautifully render Cincy in prose; the characters roil within, each interacting — and at times, struggling — with their surroundings in different ways. But it could also be any Midwestern city. And the trio could be any group of old friends. Because of this, it’s easy to immerse yourself in the increasingly tangled plot.

In part, that immersion is purposeful. Strawser drops you immediately in the opening scene and leaves you scrambling for breath in the fallout. But that pace isn’t kept. Everything slows. The real story is not the mystery of the masked man, but rather everything that orbits that moment.

Forget You Know Me leaves you piecing fractured bits of narrative together when this trio of friends’ façade finally cracks. It begs the question: What can be salvaged, if anything, when the screen goes black? 

Forget You Know Me is available for purchase.

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