Class, race, and natural disaster collide in this first novel.
Five-year-old Daisy Gonzalez has gone missing. Her disappearance is a crisis for her father and a problem for the police. For just about everyone else in Colliersville, Indiana, it’s a symbol of the town’s decline. Although the question of what has happened to Daisy serves as a catalyst and a unifying conundrum, this is not a typical mystery novel. Instead, it reads more like a collection of connected short stories. Gordy is a journalist who’s gone undercover to investigate conditions at the Yoder Dairy. That business itself is a flashpoint for conflicts both public and private. Helman Yoder’s decision to expand operations and replace local workers with Mexican migrants has aggravated racial tensions in the community and given Colliersville’s militia movement—all two members—a renewed sense of purpose. It’s also exacerbated Helman’s wife Birdy’s reliance on prescription painkillers. Renee Seaver doesn’t necessarily have anything against Mexicans, but she’s happy to use her father’s antipathy if it will get Mr. Gonzalez—her math teacher, her history teacher, and Daisy’s father—off her back. Benny Bradenton is Renee’s connection to the other side of Colliersville, where the (relatively) rich kids live. And then there’s the storm….As Kennedy takes readers from the trailer park to the McMansions, from the laundromat to the psych ward, she brings this flailing Midwestern town to life. She creates a rich chorus of distinct and authentic voices. The sheer volume of characters becomes overwhelming, though, and not every character is fully developed. Wally—or Willa—Yoder is particularly problematic. It would not be surprising if the people of Colliersville had difficulty adjusting to a transitioning transgender teen, but it feels like the novel itself doesn’t know quite what to do with this kid, and this confusion comes off as skepticism. A larger difficulty is that Daisy’s disappearance starts to feel inessential and inconsequential—a self-indulgent hook rather than a necessary part of the narrative. The final chapter only reinforces this sense.
A cacophonous debut.