Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bent Road by Lori Roy — 368 pgs

When African-American boys begin calling on his teenage daughter, Elaine, after the race riots in Detroit, Arthur Scott decides to take action and move his family back to the small city in Kansas that he left many years ago. His wife, Celia, and son, Daniel, are not happy about the move, but the youngest child, Evie, is rather excited by this proposed new life. After arriving in Kansas, Arthur is reunited with his sister Ruth, who is married to the enigmatic Ray. But the Scott family is plagued by secrets, the first being the death of Arthur and Ruth’s sister Eve. No one wants to talk about the night they found her bleeding to death in the shed, and though Celia struggles to gather information, she is closed off at every avenue. Along with that horrible secret, there seems to be something going on between Ruth and Ray that Ruth would rather not share with anyone. When push comes to shove and the family must eventually deal with that calamity, life for the Scotts is forever changed. Adding to the secretiveness of the Scott clan is the fact that a young girl has gone missing in the town, and while efforts are being made to find her, suspicion rears it’s ugly head to strike many unlikely people. Soon the town begins to suspect that Eve’s earlier murder and the missing girl are tied together in some way, and unraveling the past and the present just might tear the Scotts apart. Written with gothic energy and dark resonance, Bent Road is a triumphant debut from promising author Lori Roy, and explores the difficult ties that family holds on each one of us.

This was a book that kept me guessing. Though I was constantly trying to work the puzzle pieces of the narrative into something that made a full picture, Roy kept pulling out new and strange revelations that swept me off my feet, and the landscape of the story kept morphing and changing. I really didn’t expect to be engrossed with all of these revelations, but like a master, Roy continued to reveal more and more of her characters and their motivations in sharp bursts and revealing asides. One of the things I most loved about this book was that it was so evocative and atmospheric. From the attitudes of the townsfolk to the images of chicken and dumplings cooking away on the stove, Roy evokes a clear picture of life in late 60s Kansas. It was interesting to me because I hadn’t read much about that time and place before, but after having finished the book, I felt as if I had been there, watching the action take place in all its surroundings of darkness and light.

The writing in this book was also pretty amazing. Roy seems to be expert at creating the scene with her words, and even the cadence and flow of the writing shifts from viewpoint to viewpoint, which was not only effective but also felt highly skilled. Roy also manages to create her characters in wonderful definition and each one of them had believable interactions, behaviors and motives. From Celia’s passive-aggressive actions towards her mother-in-law to the unsure and changing reflections of Daniel, all these characters had the flavor of real people caught in the confines of some very difficult and dangerous situations. I liked that Roy never revealed in one fell swoop what she could deliver in little bites throughout the narrative. As more and more is revealed about the Scott family and their past, age old grievances and shocking secrets begin to come out of the woodwork, and the developing picture is startling, to say the least. In addition, Roy has a gift for dialogue as well. In her book, the characters speak with crispness and curtness, making everything that comes out of their mouths more meaningful and strangely more cutting. Roy doesn’t waste time with verbal dalliance, preferring to be direct and straightforward with her characters’ dialogue.

The only problem I had with this story was that despite its bits of brilliance, the plot felt flat at times, and there was very little hope to what was eventually a story of brokenness and sadness. Roy does a great job with scene setting and character, but I would have loved the tale a lot more if it had flashed just a little happiness amid the mire of ungainly sadness. When I got the chance to hear Roy speak about her book, she was very forthcoming about the the way this story was written and how she created her characters. And she convinced me that instead of this being a gothic novel, it was more down home south. Our book club had the pleasure of speaking to her, and though there were some technical difficulties, Lori was able to answer all of our questions and share her impressions on our reflections with us.

This is a book that I enjoyed but didn’t totally lose myself in due to the sadness and heaviness of the plot. While there were things about it that I didn’t care for, I do think that Roy displays an excellent grasp of character and a finesse with her plotting that you don’t often see. I think that if I had read this book at another time, I might have walked away with a different opinion. Roy sure has the method of atmosphere down pat, and I was excited to hear that she is working on a new novel that is due out soon.

24 comments:

Mary (Bookfan) said...

I love your reviews, Heather. You always hit upon what I want to know most about a book before going in. In this case, I can tell I would need to be in a certain mindset. Thanks for telling us about Bent Road.

Kathy said...

This book has been in my TBR pile for a couple of months and I just can't get motivated to read it. Based on your excellent review today I think I will give it a try although I'll keep my expectations in check. Thanks for a thoughtful review today!

Jennifer @ Mrs Q Book Addict said...

This one is new to me, and despite the fact that you mentioned it fell flat at times, I would really like to give this one a try.

Harvee Lau said...

A book I'd like to read = combination of mystery and the gothic. And good writing.

Darlene said...

I've heard mixed reviews on this one and yet it's one I'd like to try. My library has the audio so I think that's the route I'll probably take.

Audra said...

Whoa -- this sounds great. I'm going to have to get it -- even though the novel didn't always work (bummer when that happens!), what you've articulated has me itching to get my hands on it!

Sandy Nawrot said...

This book got such a huge response but it didn't grab me too much. Could have been the influence of a bad narrator, but overall my expectations were dashed...

Jenny said...

I seem to have enjoyed this book more than others whose reviews I've read, but I have to agree that one of her strengths is definitely in the atmosphere.

bermudaonion said...

Oh man, I'm sorry to see the plot fell flat at times because the premise sounds so good. I'm wondering how Eve ending up bleeding in the shed.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

Your mention of chicken and dumplings on the stove and the author's categorization of it as "down home south" have me sold. I'm adding this one to my WishList. I'm not sure what it says about me that I prefer books like this one to those where everything gets tied up neatly in the end. Especially to be true to the time and place, sometimes that sadness is just honesty...ok, now I'm getting all excited about this book :p

Jenners said...

A book that is too sad can be a difficult read.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This sounds so good, but I try to avoid sad books around the holidays. Need to squeeze in few holiday light reads and kids books to keep me happy for the holidays:)

Suko said...

This does sound very sad and in need of perhaps a glimmer or two more of hope or happiness. Lovely and sensitive review.

Beth F said...

Drat that the plot didn't hold up. I haven't been drawn to this one for some reason.

nomadreader said...

I've heard good things about this one, but somehow I'm not really inspired to pick it up. After hearing the plot doesn't always hold up, it reinforces my decision. I will be curious to see what this author does next, however. Great review!

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I can imagine how difficult it is to lose yourself in this story because of several issues that are addressed. Sounds like quite the compelling and thought-provoking novel. I might have to check this out of the library at some point.

Happy Thanksgiving, Heather!

Aarti said...

Do you know what I think would cure the depressive nature of this book? Some alternate universe Regency England mysteries! I think you may have some on your Kindle. :-)

Brooke said...

If I read this one, will definitely move it until after the holidays! Don't want to be down and out during this festive time, but the premise sounds quite intriguing.

Alison Skap said...

A great review, as always!

I just wanted to pop over and wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. I'm still not quite up to my usual activity level around the bookoverse, but I had to make sure I came by today. Enjoy your weekend!

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

I'd probably pass this one up if I hadn't read your review. Awesome review!

Buried In Print said...

I agree that timing is everything when it comes to sombre stories, but they are often amongst my favourites after I've managed to read them, the most deeply memorable. I can see why you might not have wanted to lose yourself in this kind of story, but the way you've described it still makes me want to read it: so many elements of it appeal to me as you've laid them out.

Stacy at The Novel Life said...

Happy happy Thanksgiving dear Heather to you and your family!

When I first started reading this review, I thought it sounded like just the perfect book for me, but then I got to the part about it being sad and I just can't do sad.

But thank you for sharing such a wonderful review!

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

There is one thing I've found out, great writers can tell you what has happened or is going to happen and they wills till be able to keep you reading.

Elizabeth said...

I have this book on my shelf...thanks for the review. Sounds good, but maybe too sad for me.

Elizabeth
Silver's Reviews
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