Friday, July 15, 2011
368 pp. Dutton. $25.95
Pub. Date: 3/31/2011
Reviewed by Paul Stotts
Publisher Blurb: For twenty years, Celia Scott has watched her husband, Arthur, hide from the secrets surrounding his sister Eve's death. As a young man, Arthur fled his small Kansas hometown, moved to Detroit, married Celia, and never looked back. But when the 1967 riots frighten him even more than his past, he convinces Celia to pack up their family and return to the road he grew up on, Bent Road, and that same small town where Eve mysteriously died.
While Arthur and their oldest daughter slip easily into rural life, Celia and the two younger children struggle to fit in. Daniel, the only son, is counting on Kansas to make a man of him since Detroit damn sure didn't. Eve-ee, the youngest and small for her age, hopes that in Kansas she will finally grow. Celia grapples with loneliness and the brutality of life and death on a farm.
And then a local girl disappears, catapulting the family headlong into a dead man's curve...
On Bent Road, a battered red truck cruises ominously along the prairie; a lonely little girl dresses in her dead aunt's clothes; a boy hefts his father's rifle in search of a target; a mother realizes she no longer knows how to protect her children. It is a place where people learn: Sometimes killing is the kindest way.
All families have secrets, secrets that never cross the threshold of the family home, certain words and actions hidden from the world, like the inside of a folded blanket. Secrets are kept in order to protect family members from humiliation, or bullying. Or legal troubles. Family. It is your inner circle; it is your heart. They are the people who know your darkest secrets. And love you anyway.
It is this idea of family—and their secrets—that pervades Bent Road, Lori Roy's remarkably poised debut novel. Roy's exploration of family dynamics is reminiscent of the work of Dennis Lehane, where the profound lurks underneath the surface of the narrative. Bent Road may be classified as a thriller, but the meat of the novel is the Scott family drama.
Roy's vision of Kansas in the 60s is strikingly vivid and evocative, like a painting of a farm on a prairie can feel both isolated and like home, how it can remind you of childhood and fill you with dread. This simple bucolic life is, at times, stark, gritty, homey, joyful, and harsh, but always real. Roy pulls these conflicting emotions out of the reader, resulting in a palpable tension that far outpaces the thrills and chills of the plot.
Roy employs multiple points-of-view to tell the story, focusing on the mother, Celia Scott, Aunt Ruth, and the two youngest Scott children, Evie and Daniel. Daniel's perspective is too heavy on the foreshadowing, and is the most shallow and contrived. Evie's interest in her dead aunt Eve's belongings add a Gothic feel to Bent Road, but don't add to the narrative. The women, Celia and Ruth, drive the novel, both emotionally and in terms of plot. Roy's best and most satisfying work is when she is in either of their shoes. The characters are all believably written, Evie feels appropriately young, and Daniel's teenage angst works.
Roy telegraphs the ending, which is disappointing for its lack of surprise, and the realistic conclusion may fall flat for some readers. A minor character death later in the novel shows Roy's hand too clearly, and is overly melodramatic.
Bent Road mostly delivers on its promise. Considering the overall strength and quality of the novel, Lori Roy has a bright future. Her ability to elicit emotions with her wonderfully crafted language and tone is spectacular. While not a strong novel, Bent Road is a solid literary thriller.