In rural Michigan, home to the family abuse and emotional distress Reardon captured so vividly in Billy Dead (1998), the specter of a dead child forces a woman to face herself and her demons.
At age ten, Mary Culpepper plotted to escape the strictures of her north Michigan hometown, where booze and adultery helped the populace make it though long nights. Instead of falling prey to those same sorrow-filled vices, she grows up to become a school-bus driver whose modus operandi is to absorb life’s shocks in stony silence. Her best friend Amy dubs her The Lone Rangerette. Physically impressive and earthy, a star at softball, Mary sleepwalks through life, remaining close to Amy even after she seduces away Mary’s husband, Carl. But then the discovery of little Jen Colby’s battered body in a closet in the house at the end of her bus route wreaks havoc with Mary’s carefully built defenses. Summoned to testify in the explosive case against the child’s mother, Mary suffers a breakdown. Her sleep is haunted by an oppressive granite figure she calls The Night Visitor, and her days are filled with fantasies of Number 34, the guy whose forearms catch her eye at the local tavern. The story starts slowly, and its many dangling references cause some early confusion; but effective conceits like that of “Loretta” as a personification of Mary’s feelings (her “heart”) who nevertheless acts independently of that sad—and mad—protagonist, add direction. While Mary struggles, Loretta, symbolic of Mary’s estrangement from herself, always knows what to do. Amid a surfeit of misery, the author shows the love and affection that can bind women together despite the jealousy and back-biting that grow in the fertile field of small-town life.
Large themes of loss, accountability, and redemption in a sometimes too neat package.