A fascinating story of a teenage girl squatting with her father and dealing with the aftershocks of familial trauma in the rural South.
Some stories seem to be on a path to an unpleasant resolution from the beginning. Such is the case with Pineda’s (Apology, 2017, etc.) new novel: narrator Pearl is a teenager living in an abandoned boathouse with her father, a former college professor, and two friends of the family after her father lost his job and their family crumbled. Some legacies of Pearl's old life remain, including an elderly dog named after the acclaimed poet Marianne Moore. The dog’s failing health, and the need to euthanize her, is the note on which the book opens, and it provides a running theme across its pages, a reminder of the fragility and impermanence of life. Early on in the novel, Pearl meets a young man she dubs “Main Boy,” a boorish child of privilege who traverses the landscape with a gang of friends—a group that Pearl refers to as “the flies.” Main Boy turns out to be the son of the man who owns the land on which Pearl and her makeshift family are squatting; that his behavior toward her is predatory is further evidence that things will not end well. Pearl periodically flashes back to a time when her mother was still present, and the family dynamics there have their own unnerving moments. Pineda has a great ear for dialogue and the ability to sustain an ominous mood; it all contributes to a solid sense of place and the impermanence thereof.
Though its narrative focus can at times feel almost claustrophobic, this novel's terrific sense of place, haunting character dynamics, and assured narrative voice make it memorable.