For years, best friends Sarah and Jennifer kept what they called the “Never List”: a list of actions to be avoided, for safety’s sake, at all costs. But one night, against their best instincts, they accept a cab ride with grave, everlasting consequences. For the next three years, they are held captive with two other girls in a dungeon-like cellar by a connoisseur of sadism.
Ten years later, at thirty-one, Sarah is still struggling to resume a normal life, living as a virtual recluse under a new name, unable to come to grips with the fact that Jennifer didn’t make it out of that cellar. Now, her abductor is up for parole and Sarah can no longer ignore the twisted letters he sends from jail.
Finally, Sarah decides to confront her phobias and the other survivors—who hold their own deep grudges against her. When she goes on a cross-country chase that takes her into the perverse world of BDSM, secret cults, and the arcane study of torture, she begins unraveling a mystery more horrifying than even she could have imagined.
Thoughts: Koethi Zan’s The Never List starts with a bang and ends with a whimper. After spending ten years struggling with a progressively worse agoraphobia and other phobias caused by her experiences in the cellar, the news that her abductor could possibly be released on parole is enough to cause her to recover. In fact, she recovers quickly enough to be able to not only leave her apartment but also to leave the state as well as visit her abductor’s old haunts. While one can recognize the reasons for her recovery, the suddenness of it as well as the speed with which she is able to function normally in society after so long is baffling, especially as her abductor has been up for parole several times over the last ten years. Ms. Zan fails to adequately explain why this time is different. It is as if she wakes up one day and decides she is fine. While her recovery is not quite that extreme, there are elements of it that are. The implausibility of her recovery is just one of the story’s weaker points.
Another is the fact that Sarah, as well as at least one of her fellow captives, is willing to avoid police involvement and solve the mystery of Jennifer’s missing body as a vigilante. While it is meant to show how Sarah’s involvement in the case is finally allowing her to move forward, the move is just too extreme and does not sit well with a reader. There are other issues with the various characters, like the abrupt and somewhat unexplained involvement of other captives and even several of her abductor’s colleagues. The final twist, once revealed, fails to have the impact it could have if a reader did not have to suspend disbelief to allow for all of the various anomalies.
There is no doubt that The Never List is dark and disturbing. The girls’ experiences, told through memories, is horrifying and made all the more so because Ms. Zan never really goes into specifics regarding their torture. That it was both physical as well as mental is absolutely clear, but a reader gets the dubious pleasure of filling in many of the gaps. Still, that does nothing to help offset the quick recoveries of all of the girls, their willingness to take matters into their own hands, and their sudden eagerness to face their accuser after ten years of wanting absolutely nothing to do with anyone involved in those years of captivity. The story itself is actually quite intriguing and remains so in spite of the inconsistencies. It will be interesting to see if Ms. Zan will mature as a writer and tighten up her characters to avoid the very same issues which made The Never List a disappointment.