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by Maria Flook

Pub Date: Dec. 2nd, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-9858812-5-2
Publisher: Roundabout Press

A professor finds herself embroiled in her new neighbors’ sordid family crisis in this novel from Flook, who has previously explored the underbelly of families and communities both in fiction (Lux, 2004, etc.) and nonfiction (Invisible Eden, 2003, etc.).           

Aware that her affair with a married provost at Sinclair College, the Providence school where she teaches, hasn't eased her grief over the death of her long-term live-in lover, April is looking for serenity when she moves into a charming if run-down farmhouse in the Rhode Island boondocks. Instead, she finds a pile of sludge growing in the yard next door. The sludge belongs to Holt Townsend, who sold April the farmhouse but kept the barn where he now lives and runs a landscaping business. That steamy heap of rot is an effective metaphor for the plot that unfolds. Holt’s son, Blaze, a troubled teen who excels at escaping from juvenile rehab centers, currently lives with Holt, while Blaze’s mother, Janice, 25 years younger than her ex-husband, lives with an abusive new boyfriend. Soon Blaze pays April a visit in what used to be his home, showing off his GPS ankle bracelet along with a macho blend of flirtation and menace. Although he briefly steals her car, she doesn't turn him in. Soon April finds herself uncomfortably attracted to both Blaze and his raffish father. Flook, whose best writing takes us inside Blaze’s confused mind, drops increasingly obvious hints that something incestuous has gone on between Blaze and Janice. April senses without knowing the details that the boy is all “raw fear under his quiet.” She also realizes that the provost is working against her ambition to become department head, that someone has been stalking her online and that her dead lover had a secret life. After she sleeps with Holt, sexual tensions compound with sexual secrets until they burst open.

While Flook creates memorable moments of fear and guilt, her labored structure and tendency to overexplain undermines the novel’s impact.