Isolated in the Ozarks…
🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
When the body of Lucy’s childhood friend Cheri is found dismembered amidst the roots of a tree by the river, the initial hue and cry quickly blows over, leaving Lucy as the only one who cares. This is not the first tragedy in Lucy’s 17-year-old life though – when she was a baby her mother Lila walked into the caves known as Old Scratch carrying a gun…and never came back out. As Lucy starts asking questions to discover what happened to Cheri, she finds her suspicions growing that the two events might be in some way connected…
The story is told in two separate timelines – Lila’s and Lucy’s. The writing and characterisation are both of good quality and the picture McHugh paints of this small town in the Ozarks, isolated and full of superstition, works well in allowing her to build up an atmosphere of tension. She makes us feel the summer heat and the encroaching natural world, and shows us the underlying poverty of many of the inhabitants – not just economic poverty, but poverty of hope and ambition. The story is well-plotted and dark, and although the reader gets to know the basics of what happened fairly early on including who the bad guys are, McHugh still manages to maintain some suspense all the way through. For most of the book the two timelines work well, but in the last third or so, we suddenly start jumping from viewpoint to viewpoint, with very short chapters where we see things through the eyes of characters who in many cases really haven’t been developed. I found I was regularly having to search back to find out who they were. In one case I had to go back 38 chapters to find the one line where a character had previously been mentioned.
I understand from other reviews that the book falls into a genre new to me – Southern Gothic. I assume therefore that the sheer misery of life in this small town is consistent with the ‘tropes’ of that genre. And certainly it’s very well done. But given that all the men are vicious predators and all the women are downtrodden pathetic victims, that the place is full of snakes, insects and never-ending unavoidable humid heat, that superstition abounds and people still believe in witches, that the place seems to have been abandoned by all kinds of state authority and dead young women merit no more than a few days notoriety – well, all-in-all I found myself thinking that if I were forced to live there then walking into a cave with a gun and never coming out might be the best solution. The only two people with any hope in them are Lucy and her love-interest Daniel, and given the grim and gritty storyline it seemed very odd to have what seemed like a YA love story tossed in to the mix.
Overall, I thought this was a very promising debut novel – not without its weaknesses, but well-written and in the main quite well-plotted. My personal preference would be for McHugh to pull out of a genre that seems to be somewhat rule-bound and unrealistic, and to clarify whether she is writing for an adult or a YA audience. But she has certainly shown enough talent in this book to ensure that I’ll be looking out for her next. Recommended.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House. It is out now in the US but for unknown reasons is not being published in the UK until July.