Review of Lori Roy's "Bent Road," Text Version

Now that the Dallas Morning News is charging to view their content I realize when I post a book review here you can’t read it unless you pay, so since it’s a few days old, I’ll post the text here. I liked the book and think it’s a gutsy novel.
BENT ROAD/By Lori Roy/Dutton; 368 pages, $25.95
Pain & Suffering on the Great Plains
Thomas Wolfe famously proclaimed “You can’t go home again,” and with her first novel, “Bent Road,” Lori Roy proves that if you try, you’ll regret it. The story begins in 1965, when race riots in Detroit force the urbanized Scott family to return to their Midwestern roots in Kansas, to a small town that seems to have one thoroughfare, Bent Road. It’s a world of church-going farmers with closets so full of skeletons you couldn’t find a shoebox without a few bones in it. An example of Kansas Gothic, “Bent Road” has enough turmoil to make Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” appear rather genteel. In Capote’s hands, strangers were the menace. Here it’s family.
As a mystery novel, “Bent Road” delivers: the story telling is taut, suspenseful, and compelling. From the moment the Scott family drives up to their new home in the dead of night, only to be spooked by a shadowy figure running across the road, you know there’s trouble ahead. The point of view shifts between Celia, the wife and anchor, and (mainly) her two children, Daniel and Eve-ee. Celia does a great deal of dish-washing and cooking, and provides the outsider’s perspective of what it’s like to return to a Kansas farm where a shed in which the darling daughter and sister died some twenty years ago still stands.
Mystery surrounds Eve’s death, and the family doesn’t discuss it. Was she murdered by Jack Mayer, escaped lunatic? By the alcoholic Uncle Ray? To complicate matters, only a few days after the Scotts return to Kansas, another young girl goes missing, Julianne Robison, who happens to look much like the lost Eve. Plus Eve-ee also happens to look like the lost Eve. Descriptions are rather minimal here—small, blonde, cute—so perhaps half the daughters in Sixties-era Kansas looked like Eve.
Celia’s husband, Arthur, is the father figure who moves them back to Kansas, and who knows what happened to Eve. His sister Ruth also knows what happened, it seems, but she keeps the truth from her husband, Ray, who famously loved Eve. Townsfolk believe Ray murdered Eve years ago, and that perhaps now he’s responsible for Julianne Robison’s disappearance. Ray assaults Ruth not long into the story, and she then moves in with the Scott family. Smart mystery readers will smell a rat, though, as Ray’s in the suspect file labeled Too Obvious.
In its best moments, “Bent Road” portrays the loneliness and claustrophobia of life in a small Great Plains town, in the tradition of Kent Haruf’s “Plainsong.” It’s much gorier and melodramatic than Haruf’s fiction, however, and by the novel’s end, the body count is high, placing it in the Gothic tradition. But if you like a gutsy, gritty read, you’ll love “Bent Road.” Spoiler alert: The shadowy figure crossing the road in the first scene is probably Orville Robison. (Or Bigfoot.) Roy never actually reveals who it’s supposed to be. Robison is a good guess. But I’m giving nothing away. You’ll have to read the book.

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