I have a confession to make before I go any further with today's blog; I missed a post for the first time yesterday. I ended up having a day off from writing, and it wasn't until I went to clean my teeth before bed that I realised "Oh crap - it's Sunday. I didn't do my Short Story Sunday post!" I'm really sorry about that, so today, we are having a double bill of reviews.
So, on my day off, I did two things; I had a playdate with my friend Averil and her King Charles puppy (who is adorable, and just getting big enough to want to get himself into trouble), and spent the rest of the day lying in bed, reading "The Roanoke Girls", by Amy Engel. I saw Book and Brew's review of this novel, and thought it sounded amazing. And it is - it's also upsetting, tragic and beautifully written. One I started reading it in earnest, I couldn't put it down, and it was a welcome palate cleanser from my usual diet of horror novels.
The girls in the Roanoke family either run, or they die. Lane ran away from her family home when she was sixteen, and never looked back - until her cousin Allegra, who stayed with her grandparents, goes missing. Lane returns to help find her cousin, and quickly finds herself sucked back into life at Roanoke - and all the dark secrets that are kept inside the house...
I won't give away what is happening at Roanoke - it's not a twist as such, but there is a revelation early on in the book that colours every flashback and moment of tension, and it's one that is best left for the reader to discover. What fascinated me the most about this story is that, under another writer who was interested in other facets of the story, this could have been a Gothic romance. The trappings are all there - an old house, full of secrets, a legacy of beautiful girls, all with tragic fates, white lace nightgowns in the moonlight...but that isn't what Engel is interested in writing about. Instead, "The Roanoke Girls" is a study of trauma - warts and all. Lane is broken by what has happened to her in the past. She makes stupid decisions based purely on wanting to hurt people she loves. As a teen, she gravitates towards Cooper, a local boy, because he seems as damaged as she is - but is enraged by his attempts to move past his abusive childhood. When she returns as an adult, she pushes herself back into her childhood friends' lives, only to rip them apart, pushing their buttons and exposing their secrets - because she cannot expose her own. She is, really, a horrible person - but she is a brilliant character to follow.
I am being serious when I say this book is upsetting in parts. There were times when I had to put the book down and just ride the wave of emotion that I was feeling. Allegra, in particular - beautiful and desperate to be loved - broke my heart. But I returned to Roanoke every time, just like Lane did.
"The Roanoke Girls" is available from Amazon for just £1.99 (!) here.
So, that's review #1. Stay tuned for a traditional short story review, later today!
Musings on my life as a writer.