Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Backlog: Grist Mill Road

Catching up on the books I read during my long hiatus, I come back to Grist Mill Road, by Christopher J. Yates.

I've been on a long run of thrillers lately--I don't know why, maybe because they're kind of fluffy?  You get a lot of tension without using up a lot of brainpower. The fantasy and sci fi that I enjoy in generally pretty intense in world building and when they're dark, it just seems more significant, somehow.

So: thrillers, suspense, murder.  I got Grist Mill Road from Netgalley for review, because a blogger with dark tastes liked it a lot. She and I don't always agree, but this one was good.  It takes advantage of multiple points of view to tell a twisty story that keeps you guessing without a lot of surprise revelations--just a slow unfolding of perspective.

At the beginning of the book, our narrator is Patrick, looking back on his childhood and telling the story of his friendship with a boy named Matthew--a little older, a lot rougher, getting up to some dangerous games.  A girl named Hannah comes into their lives, and eventually a Big Awful happens.

Later in the book, we get more perspectives--we get information from Hannah and even from Matthew, and we learn about their lives now, years along, as well as more aspects to what happened back then.  We learn where the cracks are in their lives, and we learn more and more about that horrible day.

My favorite part about this book is the ambiguity that it leaves you with.  It starts with a clear story, the kind of story you usually get in a narrative.  And then it muddies the water more and more without changing the facts, until you can't see who could have done what to change things.

Less fluffy (really, is that the word I want?) than what I'm usually going for in my suspense, but worth it, because the twists really illuminate a lot about how the world is.  What more does anyone want in their books?

Monday, September 03, 2018

Everyone Is Horrible

No, wait, that's not the name.  You Were Made For This, that's what it was called, by Michelle Sacks.  Given where I heard about this book (Kelly, who reads mostly grimdark books about creepy rural poverty, found it ridiculously dark), I knew I was in for a rollercoaster of garbage people, and oh em gee did it deliver.

We meet Merry and Sam, who have left behind the hubbub of New York City for the Swedish countryside.  Merry gardens, cooks from scratch, and takes care of their baby son Connor.  Sam travels into the city to build up his new video production business.  They walk in the forest and swim in the lakes and eat nourishing food and take photos of their gorgeous lives. They are perfect.

Maybe there are cracks.  Maybe we wonder why they really left New York, and whether Merry is quite as natural a homemaker as she makes out.  But their life looks pretty perfect.

They hear Frank is coming to visit.  Merry's childhood best friend, Frank is a gorgeous, successful globetrotter whose life is the opposite of Merry's.  She's a consultant with a new boyfriend every season. She's going to spend her sabbatical with Merry and Sam.  It sounds lovely; Merry could use some company, living way out in the country.

I don't even really need to tell you the forms that all of this unraveling will take; it's right there in the setup.  I mean, if this was another kind of book--an intimate examination of characters and life choices--I would still spend the rest of the book waiting for the lives I've described above come crumbling down.  And they do, most spectacularly.

The story is told from all three points of view, which works very well. It doesn't rely on mystery to carry it; there are things you don't know for a while, but you're not relying on the weight of the thing the characters know and you don't to drive the tension.  Flaws start to crack open and what spills out is darker than you even thought, while still remaining entirely in the realm of what you expect from these characters--Merry isn't as tranquil in her role as we thought; Sam isn't just a doting husband and father; Frank doesn't have it all.

If there is anywhere you're wondering if the book will go, yeah, it goes there. It gets ugly, but never in any way that you were not promised from the beginning.  The use of different points of view to paint each character as both real and human while also nasty and cruel is fascinating because it works both ways; you learn both the good and bad about each person not only from their internal story but also from how they see each other.

This is a very specific kind of book; if you're looking for domestic suspense that is very character-driven and not afraid to go ANYWHERE, this is for you.  It wasn't the book of the year by any stretch, but it kept me reading right straight through.