This is one of the most captivating books I've read in a while. I started it within a few days of receiving it and had finished it within a few more. If you understand how many books I read at once (seven, right now) you might then understand that this was a remarkable change from my typical pace. It can take me months to read a book, especially if it's dense or requires research but, the right novel will make me plow heedlessly forward, forgetting all other novels, responsibilities, and people around me. This book was the right novel. I read before work, while eating lunch, and all evening after work. Finally, when it ended, I was so furious I didn't know what to do with myself. Once I calmed down, I realized that I loved the book. Sometimes it's hard to love something when it makes you angry.
If Southern Gothic is a fully recognizable genre, after this book, I would argue that Midwestern Gothic ought to be one as well (like this reviewer). Rich's characters are fully realized, even the ones in the background, which make it incredibly easy to get sucked into the novel. You feel like these are people that you know, or maybe have met somewhere before. You want to find out more about them and how they interact with the world. In particular, for this novel, you want them to interact with the world even more so you can get your bearings, figure out what about this specific iteration of Midwestern America isn't quite right.
Stanza is our main character, returning home to Kansas after five years away and the death of her fiance. Many things have changed and America now resembles something out of a modern Shirley Jackson story--dark, angry, and scared. Her community is covertly but deeply oppressive in almost every imaginable way. The open discussion of religion is not welcome nor, for that matter, is anything that falls outside of the conservative framework. Think Gilead from The Handmaid's Tale. It's a bleak society.
Stanza doesn't quite fit into this network of people and lives simply in a fishing cabin on her father's property. She is kept company by her dog and the ghosts of her loved ones. Once she begins to heal and starts teaching at the local college, she begins to draw attention to herself by simply being an independent woman with strong ideas. Most especially, she draws the attention of a former classmate, now her boss, who has carried a torch for her all these years. When their encounters escalate to the breaking point, the resulting storm breaks over her.
Sara Rich takes you on an emotional journey through one family's history and brings it to a stark, angry boiling point in a world that could be our own, that mimic our own in terrifying ways. Her writing is beautiful and her thoughts are precisely wrought. I devoured it and it moved me deeply.
I recommend this book for lovers of Margaret Atwood, Flannery O'Conner, Shirley Jackson, or Charles Frazier. Grab your copy at Foggy Pine for $8.99 (seriously, the best deal on a book this month).
I give this book 5 out of 5 stars!
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Mary Prewitt: Owner, Ruthless Reader