Sensitive and smart and arrestingly beautiful, debut novelist Buntin’s tale of the friendship between two girls in the woods of Northern Michigan makes coming-of-age stories feel both urgent and new.
Fifteen-year-old Cat catches her first glimpse of Marlena as they’re unloading the U-Haul; Cat’s parents have just gotten divorced, the most obvious consequence of which is that her mother has moved the remainder of the family from the suburbs of Detroit to Silver Lake, a rural town in Northern Michigan, 20 minutes from the nearest grocery store stocking vegetables. It is a meeting both unremarkable and life-changing. “The details of her in my memory are so big and clear they almost can’t quite be true,” Cat says, looking back. “Her arms were slicked with snowmelt and pimpled from the cold; her hair gave off a burnt-wood smell when she shook it out of her face, the way she often did before she spoke.” Over the course of the coming weeks, they become friends, and then best friends, their lives wholly and intensely intertwined. Magnetic and kind and very, very troubled, Marlena introduces the once-studious Cat to a new world of drinking and pills and sex and also friendship, the depth of which neither girl has experienced before. And still, there are parts of Marlena’s life Cat cannot reach and doesn’t understand: Cat knows someday she’ll be leaving Silver Lake; Marlena knows she won’t. She’s right. With time, Marlena slips further away, swallowed up by drugs and desperation, and by the end of the year she is dead, having drowned alone in a shallow, freezing river in the unforgiving woods. It could so easily be clichéd or sentimental. It is neither. Jumping between their teenage friendship in Michigan and Cat’s adult life in New York City, Buntin creates a world so subtle and nuanced and alive that it imprints like a memory.
Devastating; as unforgettable as it is gorgeous.