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.