My Favorite Terrible Thing: A Novel

Image of My Favorite Terrible Thing: A Novel
Release Date: 
May 1, 2024
Little A
Reviewed by: 

Nina Travers is a chameleon—a woman who constantly changes who she is to fit in with her surroundings. She’s mastered the art of sounding rich by being able to drop a few key phrases.

She never paid tuition but sat in on enough Ivy League classes that if she had, she’d have not one but two degrees. Working as a private investigator in the Hamptons, these type of credentials help her make connections and get jobs. But her downtown is spent alone, where finds solace in reading voraciously. She has no family—her parents, both alcoholics, are dead, and though she tells people she has two brothers because it makes her sound more normal, she was an only child.

Her first job, when we meet her, is to gather proof for a very successful woman who believes her husband is having sex with his fitness instructor. Unable to catch them in any other way, she makes her way up the stairs of the couple’s mega-mansion, her phone at the ready to video them in the act. Mission accomplished through a squeaky floorboard forces her to flee. But while good at such jobs, Nina has much higher aspirations.

“My dream is to solve a great case, one so well-known and deeply layered that everyone will finally see what I can do. There must be a good chance of finding one like that out here, working with high-profile clientele in the Hamptons. I have what it takes. Doubt isn't the right word. Because the key to this job isn't doubting—it's expecting the worst. It's looking for rot, skeletons. It's knowing that everyone is easily wounded and vengeful. That when it gets dark, everyone likes to watch fire burn. My cynicism has been shaped by a lifetime of being overlooked, starting with parents who drank until it killed them when I was a teen. I've never been wealthy, well-connected, or pretty enough for anyone to curry favor with me. Every day, I see how people act when they want nothing from you.”

Even Lauretta, her upstairs neighbor, an elderly outspoken character who often sits on her balcony chain-smoking as it snows, knows she’s a cipher. Showing Nina photos of her family, Lauretta displays an empty frame. When Nina stops pretending to be someone else, she’ll add her picture to the frame.

“Every day I sink deeper into my rut.”

But then Miranda Ross calls asking Nina to find her missing daughter, Claire, the bestselling novelist of The Starlit Ballet, the story of a love affair between two people as they are reincarnated over and over throughout the millenniums.

It’s one of Nina’s favorites (the other is Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch). It’s also the chance Nina’s been waiting for. The daughter of wealthy parents, Claire disappeared several months earlier from the oceanfront mansion where she grew up and was staying on the eve of her wedding. On the morning of the nuptials, her family discovers her bedroom door is locked from the inside but the window overlooking the beach is open and Claire is gone, leaving behind a grief-stricken mother and fiancé, and a strangely bitter and angry sister. Because there’s no sign of a struggle, the police assume Claire has run away. But her mother believes something more sinister has befallen her.

Soon Nina is living at the Ross home, soaking in all that she can of Claire’s environment, interviewing her distraught fiancé and the few friends she had, and even requesting her school transcripts. She also follows the posts on, a site overwhelmed with Claire’s obsessed fans who emotionally share their feelings, sightings, and theories about what happened to her. Many sport the same hairstyle as the writer (pink pixie cut) and dress like her (lots of muted colors).

Nina’s unique way of investigating leads her to believe that the clue to Claire’s disappearance might be in her novel. What she finds as she follows her instincts turns out to be more baffling and dangerous than she imagined and as she gets closer to finding the answer to what happened to Claire, it becomes apparent that Nina, who constantly fools over people, might have misled us as well.