An ambitious debut novel that will make you cry, cringe, and laugh.
In 1967, two women—Bette Parsons, the mother of five, and Alice McFee—disappear from a rural town in Canada called Fraser Arm. The scars left by this mystery lay the groundwork for the novel. “Sometimes pain brings people together, helps them to cross the grand abyss of human discord,” says Lulu Parsons, one of Bette's children, as she begins narrating the story years later. “Sometimes it’s too late.” Higdon lovingly excavates the truth behind the women's disappearance, a story buried beneath years of secrecy, trauma, and small-town drama—but does not hesitate to add plenty of salt to the wounds first. There are gaspworthy moments from the beginning to the very last chapter. Though the character count might seem intimidating, Higdon successfully fills Fraser Arm with complex characters who grow and change as the novel unfurls. For example, Doris Tenpenny, the preacher’s daughter, who is mute but sees everything, is brilliant and unforgettable (“Apart from wild mushrooms, which are sometimes tricky to identify and occasionally poisonous, Doris thinks wild people are quite similar to wild food—likeable and interesting”). Her observations are key to understanding the rest of the town. For most of the book's length, the perspective pivots between Lulu's first-person narration and Doris' third-person point of view and follows the tale for five decades without being wed to a linear timeline. The reader is quickly drawn into the intimate details of the lives of the town's inhabitants, compassionately crafted and carefully doled out. From shame to sexual abuse to the undermentioned strain of motherhood, this debut novelist boldly takes on a lot. While the absent father is a tired archetype, a sympathetic story of an absent mother is rare.
This small-town drama is jam-packed with revelations and sweet portraits that stick.