on April 6, 2011
BENT ROAD is a difficult book to wedge into any particular genre other than "fiction." And that's a good thing. There is a mystery at the heart of it, a bit of romance, and some coming-of-age and coming-to-terms elements, but debut author Lori Roy has created a work that is more of a dark parable than a tale designed for entertainment or amusement. As such, it haunts throughout and long after the final page is read. It is reminiscent, in one sense, of Thomas Wolfe's YOU CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN, though it perhaps contains a rejoinder to that title along the lines of "Oh. Really? Try to leave."
Indeed, it begins with the Scott family --- husband Arthur, wife Celia, daughters Elaine and Evie, and son Daniel --- returning in 1967 to Arthur's home in rural Kansas, the home he fled some 20 years before. The riots in their hometown of Detroit have prompted the move, but the Scotts discover they are trading one set of problems for another.
Little has changed since Arthur left his home on Bent Road following the mysterious and unsolved death of his sister, Eve. Her passing occurred shortly before she was married to Ray, and the locals have cast a suspicious eye on him, even after he married Ruth, Eve and Arthur's sister, in Eve's place. Ray nonetheless has been sinking into an alcoholic moroseness in the intervening period, interrupted only by explosive incidents where his temper has manifested itself with increasingly violent beatings visited upon Ruth. Almost immediately after the Scotts return, however, an incident involving another young girl --- this one gone missing --- awakens the memory of the prior tragedy, and suspicion is cast upon Ray once again. While that is the primary plot that runs through BENT ROAD, there is a great deal of tension percolating under the surfaces of the lives of the family members.
Evie is unable to make friends. Daniel, on the cusp of adulthood, feels himself overshadowed by his father and by Jonathon, Elaine's boyfriend. It is Celia, though, who feels most out of place, who feels a loss of self somewhere between the cosmopolitan setting of Detroit and the uneasy claustrophobia of the country people and their worldview. And, of course, there is her mother-in-law to deal with, who is constantly judging and finding her wanting in the most subtle of ways. Things come to a head when Ray beats Ruth so badly that Arthur intervenes, taking her into the family's home and offering her protection. Arthur's involvement and Ruth's exile is ill-regarded by the townspeople and the local priest, who believe that a woman's place is with her husband even under the worst of circumstances.
Ruth's --- and particularly Arthur's --- defiance brings matters to a head, and more significantly lead to the revelation of secrets that have laid quietly (if not restfully) on the conscience of instigators and victims alike for almost two decades. This uncovering results in a cataclysmic conclusion that demonstrates no one is entirely blameless or guilty for what has occurred in either the past or the present.
Roy travels some of the same terrain that Tana French has explored, but does so from a much different perspective and with her own unique set of characters. The prose reads with the authority of a diary, and one cannot walk away from BENT ROAD without feeling almost certain that the events detailed here occurred somewhere out in the Midwest, at an all-but-invisible crossroads far from the nearest interstate, where people keep to themselves and settle their own problems. Nevertheless, you will want to visit.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub
on April 16, 2011
What a fantastic book! It brings to mind the feelings evoked when seeing "American Gothic" in person. Sure, it looks like a simple painting, but underneath simmers an entire world of secrets and lies. It starts with a fairly simple premise: a family moves from Detroit to rural Kansas, the home of the patriarch Arthur Scott. While there he must face the past he ran away from and the present that may prove even more toxic.
The writing paints a vivid picture. I could see everything happen so clearly, playing like a movie in my head. Stick Kate Winslet in there, and you have an Oscar winner. It's gritty. It's real. Yet despite all the tragedy and heartache, there still lies a real sense of hope in the end. There's just the whisper of a chance that maybe this family will get past this, break the cycle, and make a better life for themselves and their community.
I highly recommend this book. Lori Roy was able to find the beauty in the stark reality of this family. I was left wanting to know more about their future and past. I will definitely look for more from this author.
Copy of this book won in a First Reads contest.
Arthur Scott left rural Kansas for the big city shortly after the death of his sister Eve. Now husband to Celia and father of three, he decides that Detroit holds too many dangers for his children, and moves back to the family farm on Bent Road. It's a huge change for Celia, who must cope with the brutality of life and death on a farm, and the interference of her mother-in-law. Her eldest daughter is happy, having fallen for the young hired hand. But the two younger Scotts have trouble making friends, and 14-year-old Daniel, who feels like a disappointment to his father, is searching desperately for ways to prove he's a man. Little Eve-ee, named for her deceased aunt, deals with her loneliness by shutting herself up in her
room and playing with with the elder Eve's beautiful dresses, which still hang in her closet. Eve's death, an apparent murder, still haunts the town, and when a young girl disappears, folks believe that the same man who killed Eve has struck again. That man is Ray, Eve's former fiance. Now married to Eve's sister Ruth, "everyone knows" he's guilty, and living under that suspicion has ruined his life, turning him into a drunken wife beater. But now Ruth has her brother Arthur to defend her.
Bent Road is the story of a buried family secret, and the powers of destruction that such secrets hold. From the opening pages, a sense ofgrim foreboding takes hold and never lifts. Life on the farm is ordinary, filled with pies and casseroles, visits from the priest, and snowstorms. But death and violence are major themes, and the feeling that something is not right hangs like a pall; when the truth emerges, the repercussions are enormous, and not just for the Scotts. Atmospheric and haunting, Bent Road is an outstanding first novel, written with skill and subtlety.
This rather strained, unconvincing novel asks the reader to accept that Arthur Scott has become so disturbed by civil unrest in 1960's Detroit, his home for twenty years, that he gathers his family - wife Celia and children Elaine, Daniel, and Evie - and returns to rural Kansas, the scene of an event in his life so terrible that he has never so much as visited in all these years.
The rural scene that the Scott's are suddenly thrust into is dark and foreboding: huge, wind-blown tumbleweeds racing beside a car at night seeming to appear as monsters, blind spots on unpaved roads, wild plants that can poison, chickens having their necks wrung as a matter of course, and snows capable of collapsing a residence. But most dramatic is the disappearance of a young girl, who eerily resembles Evie, which unleashes comparisons with the mysterious death of Arthur's older sister Eve, another Evie lookalike, some twenty-five years prior.
Typical rural claustrophobia is certainly evident: outsiders are resented, secrets don't last long, and unacceptable behaviors, like skipping church services, are sure to be rebuked. In the author's telling, in times of difficulty, even within families, exchanges are fraught with abruptness, misunderstanding, criticism, insensitivity, and can quickly turn violent. Her characters are unwilling or incapable of relieving pressures that have built among them.
Any efforts to resolve the mysteries are waylaid by the overall awkwardness and cluelessness of scenario after scenario. The writing is rather plain, often concerned with the banalities of everyday life: baking strawberry pies or Celia botching another country recipe. The characters are poorly developed: what makes them tick; are they educated; what are they thinking. A few compelling moments involving some of them can only go part way in rescuing this minimally conceived novel. In so far as the novel has legitimacy, it is an especially disheartening few of rural life.
on January 19, 2012
At first I wanted to write a nice review for BENT ROAD, but I was distracted by reading the other great reviews here. And then I read a review that only awarded Lori Roy's novel two stars. I found myself wanting to write a defense for BENT ROAD instead.
Someone wrote, "The book just wanders around launching into a family drama without mentioning first who is related..." I was going to say, defensively, that when I read the book I knew exactly who was related to whom right off. Admittedly, I had help: it was the word "Mama" on the first page that gave it away for me. I also knew the book didn't wander around launching into anything because that's ontologically impossible, but this engrossing story did wander into these troubled characters' pasts, eerily so, convincingly so. I was going to say that. The same critic said, "The most revolting is a pastor wiping lipstick off a battered and pregnant woman's mouth during a mass," adding that Lori Roy seemed to stereotype Kansas. I was going to agree that that was a revolting scene, and so realistically drawn I felt actual loathing for the pastor. That's good writing, making a reader emote. I was also going to say, defensively, that I found nothing stereotypical about these rural Kansas farmers and churchgoers, but I didn't have to because the editors of the Kansas City Star named BENT ROAD one of their favorite books of the year.
I was going to say all this and more in Lori Roy's defense, but then I learned today that BENT ROAD was named a nominee for a 2012 Edgar Award, Best First Novel by an American writer. Only five first novels were nominated.
How do you defend against that?
on September 30, 2013
Oh my. Was this the worst book I ever read? No. But it's right down there at the bottom. It's Lori Roy's first novel, so I suppose one can forgive certain flaws for that reason, but it really doesn't excuse her editors. The characters are clichés. The story is uninspired. The setting and every single thing that takes place within it is dark and unvarying in tone. The book goes on and on and on for 352 pages. Why I kept reading past 150 of them is baffling to me. I suppose I hoped that Dennis Lehane's recommendation that it was "rich and evocative" would turn out to be true. Every chapter beyond the book's middle is a boring repetition of the ones before it. The ending is so anticlimactic, predictable and hackneyed that it made me want to weep for the time I wasted on this piece of dreck. Dear fellow readers, don't bother with this one. There are so many, much better books on our shelves waiting to be read.
on June 19, 2011
If you are interested in a slow-moving, plodding novel, this book is for you. There is more death here than in a funeral parlor! If the writer wanted the reader to care when a character dies, she shouldn't pen death in every chapter. For God's sake, even the family cow dies! There are too few light-hearted moments--and thus, there is no balance. It is strictly maudlin all the way.
on March 31, 2011
by Lori Roy
This is a gripping debut novel from an author to watch. Lori Roy tells a story in southern-gothic tradition of a family haunted by the past.
To escape the race riots of 1967 Detroit, Arthur Scott returns to Kansas, after fleeing his family homestead there twenty years before.
While his teen daughter settles into a new love and life in Kansas, his adolescent son, and grade school daughter struggle to fit in and belong.
Arthur's wife must come to terms with being a farm wife, as she struggles with Arthur's secret past and what drove him away from his home here so long ago.
Ms. Roy portrays a very real picture of farm life, country folk, and the secrets a family will go to all lengths to hide, even from each other.
The characters are believable, their struggles heartfelt. This is a haunting, memorable story. This author has much to offer, in a genuine way. I welcome her, and highly recommend her.
on January 31, 2014
I chose this novel based on some of the good reviews I saw here and on Barnes & Noble. I did not like this book very much at all. This book was dark, depressing, sad, and really had nothing to redeem it. None of the characters were very relatable to me, nor were they likable. Winter, snow and cold were almost main characters in this story. Every other sentence described the bitter cold, frozen air, teeming snow, icy roads. All of this weather related description also added to the desolation of this novel. The only characters that i felt some sort of empathy for were Celia, the wife who is ripped from h er city existence and forced to live in the frozen wasteland with these bleak and troubled people. Daniel, the teenaged son I did like as well. Reesa, the grandmother repulsed me, as did Uncle Ray, Aunt Ruth, Father Flannery, etc. I found the cast of characters so warped, selfish, disturbed and extremely unlikable. I did not give away any spoilers here, but this book is rather predictable and I did not find it suspenseful at all. It certainly did not paint a very flattering picture of Kansas in the winter. I was so underwhelmed by this novel that i will never buy another by this author again.
on June 26, 2011
I want to begin by saying that this book is nothing like I expected. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because I did end up happy with it, but what I am saying is don't go into it with any expectations. I was expecting a literary thriller - Tana French style - and that is not at all what Bent Road is. Just sayin'.
Instead of being a literary thriller, Bent Road is more of a character study revolving around two mysteries - what really happened to Arthur's sister, Eve, and what happened to the missing little girl. While these mysteries are important aspects of the story, and the answers are revealed by the end of the book, the mystery aspect of the novel is secondary to the character development and the study of Arthur's family - the family he created with Celia and the family he grew up with and has now come back to.
Arthur's family of origin is dysfunctional with a capital D. The character my heart most broke for in this novel was Celia, because she was basically forced to live among this family she didn't know much about, hadn't spent any time with in the twenty years she and Arthur had been together, and came to find out that there are serious family issues, and to top it all off her mother-in-law didn't much like her. It was sort of a train wreck waiting to happen and I really admired Celia at one point in the story because she does stick up for herself and try to protect her three children among all the chaos and drama surrounding them.
The writing in Bent Road is really fantastic and while the I would consider the novel to be of the slower variety, I was immersed in it. Completely. I loved how Roy played her characters against one another, how she built these relationships and how she wrote such distinctive, descriptive, interesting people. Yes they were dysfunctional and not emotionally stable people, but they were incredibly interesting to me and I couldn't stop reading to find out what they would do or say next.
While I can't say I loved every single thing about Bent Road, I thought it was a solid novel and overall I wound up being very satisfied with it. I had a little trouble with the fact that it was so different from my expectations, but if you go in knowing this is not a thriller, or even a mystery in the traditional sense, you will be much better off. Expect more of a slower paced, character-driven novel and you will probably be a happier person in the end. I would definitely recommend Bent Road if you enjoy those types of novels.