Amy Latus's coworkers are concerned because Amy has not shown up for work for a couple days and she is usually so reliable. While three of them head off to her apartment, some others look through her desk at work to see if they can find any clues to where she might be. They find an envelope taped to the inside of her drawer marked "Knox County Sheriff. Personal." The coworkers open the letter and read, "To Whom It May Concern: In the event of my disappearance or death I need to let it be known that I advanced Ronald Lee Ball a considerable amount of money...Today Ron and I are romantically involved, but I fear I have placed myself at risk in a variety of ways...We are struggling in our relationship right now and life would be much simpler (for him) if the financial issues between us just went away." Amy Latus wrote this letter about the man who had been living with her for months. And even though she was so fearful of her safety that she took the precaution of writing that letter, she never mentioned this fear to any of her family.
Amy's death is the catalyst for If I Am Missing or Dead, the book written by Janine Latus, Amy's older sister, and published in 2007. After finding this book while wandering through Target one day, I picked it up at the library. I was afraid I would be reading 300 pages of violence and beatings that continually escalate until Amy Latus dies. But the focus throughout the book remains on Janine Latus and her life, and although there is some violence, it does not overwhelm the narrative.
Janine Latus grew up in Michigan with her four other siblings, her mother, and an abusive father. The abuse wasn't as simple as beating the shit out of his kids, but he was constantly bullying them, putting them down, and sexualizing his daughters in ways that obviously had repercussions in their own relationships as they grew older. Janine Latus has a fascinating life story and this book is hard to put down. Not all of her relationships with men are negative, but the cycles of abuse and dysfunction that started in her own family follow tradition and haunt her throughout her life, often mirroring her relationship with her father. The book follows Janine through a string of boyfriends and finally her dysfunctional relationship with a husband whose lack of self esteem and inability to deal with anger often makes him possessive, jealous, and controlling.
However, as soon as I read the letter written by Amy about her boyfriend Ron, I wanted more information about her life. Amy had a lot of people who loved her and her death was a tragic waste of life. I wanted to understand what happened, why she let herself get involved with someone like Ron, what happened in her childhood with her father, and what she was thinking throughout her life. But the story is about Janine's life, told from her point of view. The only insights she has into her sister's life are when Amy comes to visit or their telephone conversations, and that is just what Amy chose to tell her at the time, which ends up raising more questions than answers. Amy was hiding a lot. I realize that it would probably be impossible for the sister of a murder victim to do the kind of research and dig into her sister's life to get that kind of personal information, even if it was available. The story I was looking for would probably have to be written by somebody else, but I felt a little betrayed by the advertising on the book. I went into it thinking the story was about two sisters. I anticipated reading about Amy, or a comparison of the two sisters' lives. And as absorbing as Janine Latus's life was, when I finished the book, I felt as though something important was missing.