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Originally published Sunday, May 26, 2013 at 5:05 AM

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‘He’s Gone’: a second husband’s shadow self

“He’s Gone,” Seattle author Deb Caletti’s first adult novel, is the absorbing story of a Seattle woman who learns that her second husband is not the man she thought she married.

Special to The Seattle Times

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“He’s Gone”

by Deb Caletti

Bantam, 323 pp., $15

“He’s Gone” is as much about the mysteries of the heart as about a man’s disappearance.

The absorbing first adult novel by Seattle young-adult author Deb Caletti is the story of Dani Keller, who wakes up one Sunday morning on her Lake Union houseboat with a growing dread that all did not end well at Saturday night’s office party and that husband Ian isn’t just out fetching coffee and pastries.

“He’s Gone” is similar to Gillian Flynn’s mega best-seller “Gone Girl” only in that the plot revolves around a missing spouse and the doubt cast on the partner still standing. Whereas “Gone Girl” is told in increasingly jaw-dropping she-said, he-said revelations, the quietly revelatory “He’s Gone” is narrated solely by wry, introverted Dani.

As the story unfolds, we learn that Dani’s quiet facade hides the heartache of an abusive marriage to Mark. After she meets Ian at a Little League game in their suburban neighborhood, she becomes the “other woman,” then a divorced single mother, then an eventual second wife to Ian.

Successful, sensitive Ian seems like the complete opposite of bullying Mark. But when Ian’s insecurities and hypercritical “shadow self” surface, Dani realizes that “There are control freaks and out-of-control freaks, and at the end of the day they look pretty much the same ... When you go looking for rescue, you end up trapped in your own weakness. You are a butterfly who needs to lay her eggs and sees the perfect leaf, realizing too late that the leaf is not a leaf at all, but the green cotton shirt sleeve of her captor.” (Ian, not coincidentally and much to Dani’s horror, is a butterfly collector.)

The darkness in Dani’s life is balanced by the love of her spunky mother and sensible daughter, who rally around her with humor, hugs and comfort food. Another welcome presence is Dani’s endearing dog, Pollux.

Caletti casts a winking eye at our regional quirks, from chain-saw art to coffeehouse mania to toddler wear: Two girls Dani spots in a park are “wearing the city’s regulation attire for hip children of hip parents — part expensive hemp EcoWear, part dress-up box. In Seattle, there’s always some kid in a feather boa or tutu and cowboy boots.”

Seattleites will get a kick of recognition out of real-life places that play a part in the plot of “He’s Gone,” such as Kerry Park and the Sorrento Hotel.

They will appreciate the way Caletti captures the city: “The raindrops jump into the lake, a raindrop ballet on a water stage, and the houseboat tilts in the wind. ... The view from our home is similar to the one from Ian’s office up on Queen Anne Hill, but at the houseboat it’s spread out in front of us rather than seen from above. Lake Union, the Space Needle, various boats chugging past, seaplanes landing — you feel as if the city is yours out there, that you belong to it, and it to you.”

Agnes Torres Al-Shibibi is a Seattle Times desk editor.

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