Title: Bent Road
Author: Lori Roy
Publisher: Dutton (Penguin)
Pub. Date: March 31, 2011
It may be a debut novel, but Lori Roy's Bent Road is a masterpiece. Her storytelling, characters, setting and atmosphere -- everything was just fantastic. Bent Road takes place in 1967 when the Scott family moves from Detroit back to Kansas where the father/husband, Arthur, grew up. He hasn't been back in the twenty years since he moved; too many deep-seated feelings abound for him regarding his past and the death of his sister, Eve. He's never discussed this with his wife, Celia, nor ever taken his family back to meet his mother, Reesa, or his other sister, Ruth. Even after the eventual move to Kansas, the situation regarding Eve remains a mystery of which no one will speak. Shortly after the Scott's arrive in Kansas a little girl goes missing and impacts the community and their own family. And a situation between Arthur's sister, Ruth, and her husband, Ray, puts the entire family in danger.
A sense of foreboding manifested throughout the entire novel. That underlying chill contributed so much to the atmosphere of the story. The mystery surrounding Eve revealed itself slowly and managed to equally remain a large part of the plot while simultaneously taking a backseat to the characters current dynamics. Roy's writing was very deliberate; every word and every sentence had a purpose. The character development was superb. The fragility of each of the characters, and of the family as a whole, was remarkably portrayed. The fourteen-year-old son, Daniel, wants nothing more than to be a man and earn his father's pride. And I think he managed to achieve this by the end, but in a surprising way. Nine-year-old Evie, her aunt's namesake, wants nothing more than to know her aunt, wants everyone in the family to love each other. But her extreme naivete is also hurtful to the family. Celia, an incredibly supportive wife, tries to make the best out of the move to the country despite her trouble adjusting, and struggles with the unsuspected dangers lurking in the community.
I've heard Roy's writing compared to that of Tana French's, but since I've yet to read any of French's, I can't comment on that. I found myself reminded initially, however, of Nancy Pickard's novels (The Virgin of Small Plains, The Scent of Rain and Lightning). But really, to compare to anyone isn't too fair because Roy's writing has a distinct quality of its own. The narration was interesting; it's written in third person but moves at times to various perspectives. There aren't any chapter divisions, just whatever perspective should be told for that page or that paragraph. The first time the narration switched characters it sort of caught me off guard, but after that I hardly noticed it and I really liked the way we had a glimpse (only as much as necessary) into another person's thoughts.
The execution of Bent Road was wonderful and I absolutely recommend it. It's one of my favorites of 2011 so far!
And on a side note, I'm so happy I squeezed this book in before the UCF Orlando Book Festival on Saturday because Ms. Roy will be there! She is a resident of west Central Florida. I love having great authors in Florida, and I didn't realize that until I got to the "About the Author" on the last page, so that was a pleasant surprise!