Friday, June 6, 2014

The Weight of Blood

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Weight of Blood (Spiegel & Grau, 2014).

Debut novels just don't come better than this. Man alive, this is a creepy book. Coming as it did, for me, right after Swamplandia!, I spent several days fighting down the mild nausea of horrible worry about what is going to happen to a young female protagonist in a very isolated and very unfriendly rural environment. Sometimes, I wish my reading pile would magically know how to sort these things out for me.

Laura McHugh's The Weight of Blood begins with the discovery of a missing teen's dismembered body. The grisly discovery of Cheri's body, a year after she vanished, brings media attention to a small Missouri town, but a lack of leads and a lack of local interest in the very poor community means that life goes on quite quickly. Cheri's only friend was a high school girl named Lucy, and her story began more than ten years earlier, when her mother vanished without a trace. Haunted by those memories, Lucy sets out to learn what happened to each of them. It should go without saying that things get very, very bad before they get better.

I really enjoyed the structure of the book, although once again my half-assed inattention to these things resulted in me missing what was happening for several pages. The story is told in alternating first-person narratives, one chapter by Lucy in the present day, the next by her mother several years previously, as her life brought her to Missouri. The story unfolds with a cool and deliberate pace, sparing little as Lucy is forced to make awful choices about who to trust, and whether to overlook or forgive her family and her community. As a narrator, she is as honest as she can be, but there's a lot that she does not know that her mother once did. Recommended with the caveat that this genuinely does get really unpleasant in places, and with my genuine praise that a first novel can be so powerful.

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