Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Year of Fog

The Year of Fog is Michelle Richmond’s third novel, but the first one that I have read. The story is about Abby, a photographer who is engaged to a man who has a six year old child, Emma. They live in San Francisco. Abby took Emma to the beach one day while she was shooting photographs. It was a foggy day at the beach and while Abby was photographing a dead baby seal on the beach, Emma ran up ahead and then disappeared.

While this is a mystery novel that involves Abby never giving up searching for Emma, it is also a very interesting study of memory. I found this to be a quite captivating take on the story. Emma studies all that she can find about memory, convinced that there is something that she saw that she needs to remember in order to find Emma.

This is a good novel, with several themes going on, including the nightmarish tragedy of a child missing, the study of memory and the impact on relationships that such tragedies impose. I also thoroughly enjoyed all of the San Francisco background and history in the book…so far my most favorite city that I have visited.

What I also found interesting is that the novel is based upon a happenstance incident that occurred to the author. She wrote about it in the San Franciscan Gate. I include the article below.

One more side-note: I was reading a magazine review of a book the other day that sounded very good and I decided to write down the name of it in order to remember that I want to read it…it is by the same author! (The book is called No One You Know.)
The original article can be found on here:
Sunday, April 29, 2007 (SF Chronicle)
The Stories We Tell
Michelle Richmond
Emma Balfour walked into my life in the summer of 2003. Our paths collided
on Ocean Beach, the 3-mile stretch of gray sand and graffiti-spattered
seawall marking the western edge of the city.
It was a cold day and the beach was buried in dense fog, the kind of fog
that makes you feel as if you are lost in some strange dream. It was in
this bleak landscape that the child appeared, wearing a red sweatshirt,
blue jeans rolled up to her calves, no shoes. She was carrying a small
yellow bucket. Although she was only 6 or 7 years old, she appeared to be
alone. She had long black hair, blue eyes, dimples.
She bent down, picked something out of the sand and laid it gently in the
"Hi," I said.
"Hi." Her voice was sweet and raspy, completely unguarded.
"What are you collecting?"
"Sand dollars," she said seriously, holding out the bucket for me to
examine. At the bottom lay a single, perfect sand dollar.
I reached down and touched it admiringly. "Lovely."
"I know!" she said, returning to her search.
I continued walking slowly, turning around every few steps to glance at
her. I kept waiting for an adult to appear. None did.
Then something caught my eye -- a shape in the sand, a dark crescent
several feet away. I went to examine it. It was a dead seal pup, partially
covered by sand.
A minute or two later, I turned back toward where the girl had been, but
she wasn't there. She had disappeared into the fog. If I had not talked
with her and heard her raspy voice, if I had not felt the rough sand
dollar with my own fingers, I might have believed I had dreamt her up.
I never saw her again. But something had happened; this stranger had
walked into my imagination, and she would not go away. For the next few
weeks, I thought of her several times a day. Finally, having nowhere else
to go, she stepped into a novel. I had not planned to write this novel. In
fact, having recently completed my first, I was rather determined not to
write another one. But there she was, the mysterious girl on the beach,
demanding my attention.
Three years and almost 400 pages later, I had figured her out. I knew what
she was doing at Ocean Beach, why she vanished and what happened to her
afterward. I had given her a name, Emma Balfour, and I had uncovered her
secret history. In the process, I had uncovered secrets about San
Francisco as well -- the mass grave beneath the swank Lincoln Park Golf
Course, for example, and the broken tombstones that make up parts of the
gutter at Buena Vista Park. I had come to understand my neighborhood, the
Outer Richmond, and its previous life as the Outside Lands, once home to
sand dunes and bordellos. I discovered that the windmill at the
northwestern edge of Golden Gate Park, where I often take my toddler son
to play, once pumped the water that turned the desolate sand dunes into
lush greenery.
By the end of my fictional journey, I had also learned a thing or two
about myself, for the places we love are a key to our own inner workings.
My husband grew up in the Bay Area, left for seven years and returned. I
am one of the many who grew up somewhere else, arrived and immediately
recognized San Francisco as home. But I never really knew my adopted city
until I began seeing it through the eyes of my characters. Its hills and
hideaways, its woods and water, lend to it a magic and mystery that is
missing from the flat Gulf Coast landscape of my childhood. And while the
balmy waters and gentle waves of the Gulf of Mexico beckon swimmers, the
wild Pacific in these northwesterly climes does just the opposite. It is a
place for rugged surfers armed with wetsuits and surfboards, not
swimsuit-clad children with floatees. The beach itself is strewn with
glass and garbage and the ashes of illegal bonfires. Not long ago, a
homeless man was found dead on Ocean Beach, suffocated by the shifting
sand. When I take my son there to play, I always have an eye out for
potential dangers.
Which is perhaps why the girl stayed with me: She was a version of myself
from nearly three decades before, but in a drastically altered context. On
one hand, I felt a bit jealous. How different my life would have been had
my parents chosen to stay in the Bay Area, where my father's naval ship
was stationed during Vietnam, instead of returning home to Alabama. On the
other hand, she called to mind buried fears about raising a child in the
It is possible that Emma -- not the actual girl on the beach but the one
she became, in my novel and in my imagination -- was a product of my own
deepest fears, as so many of our stories are. A child vanishes into the
fog -- truly, a parent's worst nightmare. Like a Wes Craven flick or an
amusement park house of horrors, the stories we read, and the stories we
tell, serve as a repository for the unthinkable. By way of story, we
relegate the terrible to the realm of the imagination. And then we rely on
the flimsiest of things -- vigilance and good luck -- to keep it there.
Michelle Richmond's novel set in contemporary San Francisco, "The Year of
Fog," is just out from Delacorte and has been optioned by Newmarket Films. ----------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright 2007 SF Chronicle

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