A plotless debut novel chronicles the lives of two abused young siblings in the mid-1980s.
Twins Michelle and Michael, born during their mother Jacklyn’s second marriage, share a special bond as brother and sister and must fend for themselves as they adjust to moving from the desert hustle of Las Vegas to bucolic, mountainous Tehachapi, California. Flashbacks nicely set up Jacklyn’s history as a single mother trying to make ends meet in the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas in the 1970s. There, she meets and marries hotheaded, physically abusive ex-Navy sailor Mike, who becomes the twins’ unstable father and a man Jackie eventually abandons. As the children grow up together in a dusty desert apartment complex, the twins begin an assortment of childhood shenanigans. Michael shoplifts, while Michelle squares off against neighborhood bullies. She eventually becomes a target for her lecherous, alcoholic stepfather, Pete, who proves a horrific influence on both twins by systematically molesting and photographing Michelle and Michael after plying them with alcohol. His abuse eventually extends to the twins’ friends, though troubled teenage brother Sonny runs away to Las Vegas. Michelle befriends neighbor girl Kimmy as Michael pals around with the Mexican Sanchez brothers and young “hell-raiser” Doug, all of them enjoying the spontaneous adventures and minor knee scrapes of youth. The surprise reappearance of the twins’ biological father during a summer vacation injects humanity and familial poignancy into the narrative but isn’t explored further. While the authors have produced a raw, resonant story rich in atmospheric details and an evocative sense of place, the lack of a discernible, anchoring plot or climaxing event renders the book more a harrowing tale than a coming-of-age novel. Pete’s epiphany, which delivers him from crass (unpunished) pedophile to born-again Christian, offers frustration rather than resolution. Unfortunately, the volume’s overworked onslaught of graphically depicted physical violence and repeated sexual molestations may limit its potential to draw readers.
A readable, foreboding family yarn with material both sensitive and unsettling.