Sunday, May 13, 2012

Bent Road by Lori Roy

This is a story of family secrets that fester instead of being exposed to the light and air so they can heal. For over twenty years Celia Scott has watched her husband evade and grieve over the sudden and mysterious death of his sister Eve. As a young man he fled the little house on Bent Road in Kansas where the tragedy occurred and ran away to Detroit. He married Celia and never looked back.

But in 1967, with the city stinking of burning tires and simmering in fear brought on by the race riots, he finally decides its time to pack up his family and go home to the house on Bent Road.

Arthur and their eldest daughter, Elaine, find it relatively easy to adjust to their new rural life, but for the two youngest children, Daniel and Evie, and their mother, Celia, it is a struggle. Celia is used to life in the big city, and a certain refinement, like wearing white gloves and pillbox hats to church on Sundays, and a mother-in-law who insists on teaching her to cook a friend chicken dinner from scratch, starting with wringing its neck.

When a little girl named Julianne Robinson mysteriously disappears, Arthur’s brother-in-law, Ray, a troublemaker, wife-beater, and hard drinker, is the prime suspect. Everyone remembers how Ray loved Eve, but after her death married her sister Ruth instead, and notes how Julianne bore an uncanny resemblance to Eve at that age with the same “blonde hair, blue eyes, and pink satin skin.” Almost everyone thinks that Ruth, who hides her bruises, secretly mourns the babies she lost when her husband’s beatings brought on miscarriages, and bakes strawberry pies and banana bread, married the man who murdered her own sister. To make matters worse, Celia’s own youngest daughter, Evie, named for her dead aunt, not only resembles her but has developed an obsession about her and even takes to wearing her old dresses, and Celia begins to fear that some harm might befall her own daughter.

I had mixed feelings about this novel, while I can’t say I loved it, I can’t say I hated it either, “lukewarm” is the word that first comes to mind. The characters and situations were interesting but the solution—which I will not reveal and ruin for any prospective readers—was somewhat mundane, a bit of a letdown. No one ever wishes for tragedies and horrors in real life, but in the pages of a novel like this, the reader expects what the unfolding story reveals to be a tad more dramatic and sinister. The events were undeniably tragic and should never have happened, but the buildup they were given made this reader at least expect more.

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