What Could Be Saved is an engaging dual timeline story. In 2019 artist Laura Preston is contacted by a man claiming to be her brother, Philip, who was kidnapped in 1972 when Laura’s family lived in Bangkok, Thailand. Her sister, Bea, thinks it is a scam. Her mother, Genevieve, has dementia and is of no help. Laura’s long-time boyfriend also thinks the man is a con. After a Skype call is abruptly cut off, Laura believes he is Philip. Against everyone’s wishes, she flies to Bangkok to meet him in person. She is able to get Philip a US passport after a sibling DNA test shows they are related. Laura flies him home, but Philip is extremely ill and does want to talk about his disappearance.
The novel then goes back to 1972, when Robert and Genevieve Preston, along with their three young children, Bea, Philip, and Laura, are living in Bangkok. Robert has told everyone he is working on building a new dam, when in fact he works for American Intelligence to aid with the Vietnam War. The family is known for hosting parties on Friday nights. The children are able to meet some of their father’s co-workers at these parties. One of the co-workers doesn’t seem on the up-and-up to Robert, but he and his exotic date make an impression on young Philip.
The Prestons have three maids, including Noi who is only 15 years old. Noi is seduced by the family’s driver, who turns out to be married to the oldest maid’s daughter. Philip disappeared when the driver failed to pick him up after a Judo lesson. The family blames the driver, but he is not charged with the crime after Noi gives him an alibi. When the war is over, Noi moves to Washington with the Prestons.
The majority of the novel is not about the kidnapping. Instead, the focus is on family relationships, both before and after the abduction. For Genevieve, there is the strain of living in a strange country for four years. She has an adulterous affair with Robert’s superior. She is with her lover when Philip goes missing. Her marriage to Robert is never the same, even though they do not divorce. Genevieve is an absent mother for her two daughters and makes many trips back to Thailand to look for Philip. The relationship between Laura and Bea has been strained for years. When Philip returns, things erupt between the sisters even more. Laura is also dealing with personal commitment issues and her recent inability to produce good paintings.
4-Stars. I would recommend this novel to people who enjoyed Long Bright River. I would not recommend it to my own book club because of the themes of adultery, sex trafficking, and child prostitution.
The hardcover edition is 464 pages. The expected publication is next week on January 12, 2021. Thank you to Atria Books and Netgalley for my advanced reader copy in exchange for my review.