Reviewed by Lindsay Denninger -

The Hands of Strangers by Michael F. Smith

    Main Street Rag - April 5, 2011 (projected release)
    ISBN 978-1-59948-287-3, $9.95 (softcover)

Michael F. Smithís first longer work of fiction, The Hands of Strangers, is a lesson in just how affecting a story of daily life can be. In the comfort of routine, even the routine of a living nightmare, some people find solace, while others find their sanity slipping away.

After Jon and Estelle learn that their daughter, Jennifer, has been abducted from the Musee díOrsay on a school field trip, their lives are turned upside-down. As they walk the Paris streets searching for clues, even the smallest detail brings back memories of the daughter that vanished without a trace. The couple learns to cope, but it is their methods of coping that show the cracks in their relationship: Estelle becomes a recluse, refusing to leave the phone in case they should get a call of Jenniferís whereabouts, and Jon wanders the streets, handing out flyers with Jenniferís picture and drinking himself into oblivion. Smithís story turns the city of Paris, best known as the city of love, into a city of coldness and uncertainty. Will Jon and Estelle find their daughter? And can their marriage and family unit survive if they donít?

Grown from a short story entitled "Anywhere," originally published in The Summerset Review's Summer 2004 issue, The Hands of Strangers is suspenseful without being trite or overly morose. Smith underlines the fact that it is sometimes the smallest rituals and experiences that can be the most devastating: Jenniferís bedroom door left ajar, her magazine left open to the last page she read; a different route taken on a walk; a search for clues or signals Jennifer may have left behind. In the end, as with any tragedy, there are questions that remain unanswered, and the reader is left to wonder along with Jon and Estelle. What we donít have to wonder about, though, is Smithís talent: The Hands of Strangers is a strong novella from a talented and intuitive writer.