In this debut coming-of-age novel, a young girl searches for herself—and discovers the safety and danger of living in hiding.
Growing up in the South in the 1960s, young Renae likes to hide—literally, in the surrounding area, and figuratively, in books and maps—and longs to break free of the confines of suburban life. She observes the ways that adults try to hide, too: “There was a madness in the mothers,” Martin writes, “like they’d caught a bad disease together from living in close-to-identical houses on straight flat streets.” It’s a madness that grows inside Renae’s own home, too—her father’s rage issues drive her away and she learns to recognize the same darkness within herself. At times recalling Jeffrey Eugenides’ 1993 novel The Virgin Suicides, Martin’s novel ably captures the suburban landscape and the emotional struggle that lies beneath it: the hazy static of youth, the yearning of both young and old to be something else, the rage of the unfulfilled and the seductive grip of a conventional life. Martin’s simple, stunning prose is packed with imagery and metaphor—“It felt like this was the night that autumn was finally being ripped apart to make way for winter”—and skillfully studies the era’s burgeoning social and sexual revolutions. Unfortunately, Part 2 becomes more concerned with dull, day-to-day monotony—a shift that’s consistent with Renae’s early-adult-life paralysis but which may strike readers as tiresome. A long-awaited plot payoff also falls flat. However, both the novel and its heroine are redeemed when a death in the family reunites Renae with her roots: “I thought about others I’d known,” Renae says, “the walking, living, breathing dead…they would always be grieving for something they had no name for… a something they barely ever had, a childhood state of grace, and how short a time that is in all our born days.”
A quiet, eloquent work that, although uneven, effectively depicts a journey from hope to loss to rebirth.