When the hunt for a fugitive causes police to institute a lockdown, everyday tensions in a quiet Pennsylvania town threaten to boil over in Knecht’s atmospheric debut.
At 16, Livy Marko is in the midst of the kind of small-town adolescence about which indie movies are made: she’s spending the sweltering summer babysitting, waitressing, and swimming in the creek with her longtime best friend, Nelson. So when the power goes out, it seems, at first, to “fit into a grand pattern of municipal slights”—Lomath, Pennsylvania, is not, in general, a hub of international intrigue. But, as soon becomes clear, the outage is no accident: the local police have blocked off the town on FBI orders. A fugitive from the Republic of Georgia is hiding in the Lomath woods, though the police won’t say more, and no one can come in or out of town until he’s found. As the lockdown drags on with no end in sight, the community becomes increasingly restless, and Livy finds herself inadvertently entangled in a potentially dangerous plot (or two)—and getting a surprise crash course in moral ambiguity along the way. Livy, however, isn’t the only one in Lomath keeping secrets; even her parents are more complicated than they initially appear. Knecht expertly captures the subtle social dynamics of a town suspended in crisis, chronicling mounting anxiety in crisp, unfussy prose. But while Livy and her family are drawn with tremendous precision—Livy’s relationship with her parents, in particular, is delightfully nuanced, and her complicated friendship with Nelson is fantastically un-twee—the novel occasionally feels just a bit overpopulated, with a few too many local personalities who never quite come into focus. Similarly, periodic sections focusing on the fugitive’s story are uniformly intriguing but lack the immediacy and impact of Livy’s narrative.
A thoughtful novel that resists easy moralizing.