ETHEREAL READER ALERT: IT IS TIME TO START READING OUR NEXT NOVEL — A WEEK IN WINTER BY MAEVE BINCHY. DISCUSSION WILL BEGIN FRIDAY, JUNE 6. ANYONE WHO IS INTERESTED CAN JOIN US BY READING THIS BOOK AND PARTICIPATING IN OUR DISCUSSION VIA COMMENTS. THANKS.
Again, here I am reading and reviewing a novel that takes place in the 1960s. I’m not sure what is drawing me to this time period, but it can’t be accidental that this is the third book that I’ve read in the past four weeks that takes place in the 60s.
Bent Road, a debut novel by Lori Roy, is the haunting story of a family with a dark secret that keeps them from moving forward into joy. Arthur Scott moves his family – wife Celia, teenaged daughter Elaine, almost-teen son Daniel, and young daughter Evie – from their home in Detroit back to his childhood home in Kansas when the racial problems in Detroit begin to escalate in the 60s.
Arthur moved to Detroit shortly after his sister Eve died mysteriously. Eve, who had been a small young woman with blonde hair, had been ready to marry Ray. After she died, Ray married Arthur and Eve’s sister Ruth.
Very little has appears to have changed back at the ranch in the 20 years or so that he has been gone, except that it is clear that Ray is an alcoholic who physically abuses Ruth. Couple that with the disappearance of a young girl who is physically built like Eve and also has very blonde hair, and you have for a creepy story. Especially since Arthur’s youngest daughter looks much like Eve as well.
The novel is dark, but the pacing kept me engaged. I simply wanted to see what happened next. Occasional glimpses of the love the family had for one another prevented this from becoming nothing but a morose and gothic tale.
The story isn’t a typical murder mystery, though the ending caught me completely by surprise. Instead, it’s a story of a family coming to grips with constant change and learning the danger of keeping secrets. Throughout the novel, which takes place over a matter of a few months, we see Daniel grow up and Arthur and Celia learn how to love one another again. We see Ruth become strong and even watch little Evie come into her own.
I’m not entirely sure why the novel had to take place in the 1960s. The only thing I can think of is that there had to be a believable setting in which such physical abuse could take place under everyone’s watching eye without anyone doing anything about it. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen in our contemporary society, but I think it was far more common back in the days before the Women’s Movement. Plus, they had to have a reason for Arthur and Celia to be willing to uproot themselves and return to this place of which Arthur had no pleasant memories, and civil unrest is as good a reason as any.
There are many despicable characters in this novel, not the least of whom is the evil Father Flannigan. (Seriously, couldn’t they have come up with another priest name? I couldn’t stop picturing him as Spencer Tracy.) Still, much as I hate to admit it, I think back in the 60s, priests were more inclined to think a woman’s place is with her husband, no matter the circumstances. Father Flannigan was particularly unpleasant, however.
And then there was the wicked Uncle Ray. Enough said about him.
Bent Road is pretty dark all the way through, no question about it. The ending, however, is hopeful and entirely perfect, I think.
Great book for a book club discussion and a book I highly recommend if you are in the mood for a serious read.
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