In Maren’s darkly engrossing debut novel, two women yearning for freedom fall in love, but the secrets of the past and betrayals in the present threaten to crush them.
Jodi McCarty and Miranda Matheson have one thing in common from the get-go: They both made lousy choices in love as teenagers. Jodi paid for hers with an 18-year prison sentence, which ends as the novel begins. Miranda, still in her 20s, has just fled her unhappy marriage to a washed-up country music star. The two women meet in a bar in a tiny Georgia town, and Jodi is immediately smitten with pretty, charismatic Miranda. For her part, Miranda recognizes someone who can help her—and whom she can manipulate. She needs help spiriting her three young sons away from her husband, while Jodi needs Miranda’s car to rescue the brother of her lost first love from an abusive home (although that brother is much changed from the kid she remembers). Soon the whole bunch of them are heading for an isolated West Virginia farm that Jodi inherited from her grandmother, the one place in the world she feels at home. Maren draws them, and the reader, into a world of shifting allegiances, small-town bigotry, draining poverty, pervasive substance abuse, and secrets as destructive as the blasts used in fracking on the property down the road from the farm. The author skillfully handles a dual plot, alternating chapters set in the near-present and 20 years before. The novel’s noir tone and taut suspense are enriched by Maren’s often lovely prose, especially in descriptions of the natural world, and sharp observations, like this one of Jodi’s first love: “There is a velocity to her that pulls you close. Her life lived like the coil before the strike.”
This impressive first novel combines beautifully crafted language and a steamy Southern noir plot to fine effect.