In her debut novel, opinion columnist Kurth avoids the hard-boiled approach, bringing the mystical back into mystery.
For Abby Babcock, the blue-collar hills of western New York are anything but romantic. Living in a trailer outside the small town of Welton, aging before her years, she sacrifices her days placating an abusive, alcoholic husband. Resigned to life’s emptiness and disconnected from her two teenage sons, Abby’s only grace in life is her tiny daughter, Layla, the product of a short-lived love affair with Rick, a charming country loafer with a cabin in the woods. When Abby decides to stay with her cruel husband for her sons’ sake rather than follow her heart, Rick hitchhikes to North Carolina, unaware of his secret offspring. Years pass, and to escape the worsening loneliness, Abby takes walks along nearby Conewango Creek, where she daydreams unhindered while gathering cowslips to accompany the typical evening meal of venison and potatoes heaped with insults. On returning home one day from her stroll in the woods, she discovers that Layla has disappeared. A desperate search soon becomes a full-blown rescue mission with the entire town involved, but to no avail. The girl is gone, and an already broken Abby is now devastated. Centered around the Welton Hotel (the local tavern) and Shelly’s Cafe (a country diner), the town’s rumor mill goes berserk. Was she kidnapped? Murdered by that no-good husband of hers? With the mystery of Layla unsolved, suddenly Abby disappears too, with many believing that she ran off to find Rick. Through the growing web of small-town gossip the local color unfolds. From Tess, a balding teen who resembles a â€œQ-tip,” to Opal Messenheimer, a New York City transplant who spends her days assembling an angel-motif art installation, each character unknowingly holds clues as to the fates of Layla and Abby. With well-placed detail, Kurth illustrates that in life, as in fiction, coincidences are merely latent revelations.
Authentic language and vivid prose wonderfully capture the essence of small-town America and its colorful inhabitants.