Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Mini-Reviews: Dark Literary Fiction

From Goodreads:
The Campbells have lived happily at Dulough--an idyllic, rambling estate isolated on the Irish seaside--for generations. But upkeep has drained the family coffers, and so John Campbell must be bold: to keep Dulough, he will open its doors to the public as a museum. He and his wife, daughter, and son will move from the luxury of the big house to a dank, small caretaker's cottage. The upheaval strains the already tenuous threads that bind the family and, when a tragic accident befalls them, long-simmering resentments and unanswered yearnings surface.

As each character is given a turn to speak, their voices tell a complicated, fascinating story about what happens when the upstairs becomes the downstairs, and what legacy is left when family secrets are revealed.
I like stories about family dynamics and how they are affected by tragedies, so this one seemed to be right up my alley.  It's largely about the upheaval the Campbells experience in their personal and familial lives as financial pressures force them to move from their family estate to a smaller cottage and turn the manor house into a museum.  There are issues with living in a smaller space, giving up privacy, and tension between family members, all exacerbated when the aforementioned tragedy occurs.  It should have been in my wheelhouse, but something about it fell flat.  I never really came to care about the family members or their situation and the tragedy could be seen coming from a mile away.  It wasn't bad, but I wasn't super excited about it either.  I can't come up with any Reader Friends who I think would enjoy it, either, which is always a bummer.

For Chicago sociology professor Amelia Emmet, violence was a research topic--until a student she'd never met shot her. 

He also shot himself. Now he's dead and she's back on campus, trying to keep up with her class schedule, a growing problem with painkillers, and a question she can't let go: Why?

All she wants is for life to get back to normal, but normal is looking hard to come by. She's thirty-eight and hobbles with a cane. Her first student interaction ends in tears (hers). Her fellow faculty members seem uncomfortable with her, and her ex--whom she may or may not still love--has moved on.

Enter Nathaniel Barber, a graduate student obsessed with Chicago's violent history. Nath is a serious scholar, but also a serious mess about his first heartbreak, his mother's death, and his father's disapproval.  Assigned as Amelia's teaching assistant, Nath also takes on the investigative legwork that Amelia can't do. And meanwhile, he's hoping she'll approve his dissertation topic, the reason he came to grad school in the first place: the student attack on Amelia Emmet. 
A literary mystery/thriller set on a college campus?  I'll take it!  While it's not as fast-paced or as intriguing as I would have liked, I still thoroughly enjoyed this read, especially since I read it right as the semester was getting started.  I came to care about the characters and was desperate to get to the big reveal at the end.  As much as I was anticipating the reveal of the twist, it was a bit anti-climactic when it finally happened.  It won't make it to any of my best of lists, but if you're interested in the setting, you may want to give it a try.

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins this debut novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970s Ohio and the tragedy that will either be their undoing or their salvation. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party.

When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart.
This one is short, but it packs a huge punch.  Another book about family dynamics and how they are changed in the face of tragedy, this one completely delivered in terms of psychological drama and the roles we each play in our families.  The writing is just beautiful and I was completely captivated by each member of the family and how their relationships have grown and changed leading up to and after Lydia's death.  I highly recommend this one for fans of literary fiction and family drama.

From Goodreads:
Thirteen-year-old Lizzie Hood and her next-door neighbor, Evie Verver, are inseparable, best friends who swap clothes, bathing suits, and field-hockey sticks and between whom, presumably, there are no secrets. Then one afternoon, Evie disappears, and as a rabid, giddy panic spreads through the balmy suburban community, everyone turns to Lizzie for answers. Was Evie unhappy, troubled, or upset? Had she mentioned being followed? Would she have gotten into the car of a stranger?

Compelled by curiosity, Lizzie takes up her own furtive pursuit of the truth. Haunted by dreams of her lost friend and titillated by her own new power as the center of the disappearance, Lizzie uncovers secret after secret and begins to wonder if she knew anything at all about her best friend.
So in addition to family drama and academic settings, I'm also drawn to kidnapping stories and young female narrators.  I'm also obsessed with Megan Abbott and everything she does, so this backlist title of hers was a must-read.  I'm so glad I picked it up, because, as much as I've enjoyed Dare Me and The Fever, this one may just be my favorite.  It's as dark and psychologically twisty as the other two, but I connected with Lizzie in a way that I didn't with the characters in Dare Me and The Fever.  I read this one in a single night, staying up until 2 to finish because I just couldn't put it down.

Perry and Baby Girl are best friends, though you wouldn’t know it if you met them. Their friendship is woven from the threads of never-ending dares and power struggles, their loyalty fierce but incredibly fraught. They spend their nights sneaking out of their trailers, stealing cars for joyrides, and doing all they can to appear hard to the outside world. 
With all their energy focused on deceiving themselves and the people around them, they don’t know that real danger lurks: Jamey, an alleged high school student from a nearby town, has been pining after Perry from behind the computer screen in his mother’s trailer for some time now, following Perry and Baby Girl’s every move—on Facebook, via instant messaging and text,and, unbeknownst to the girls, in person. When Perry and Baby Girl finally agree to meet Jamey face-to-face, they quickly realize he’s far from the shy high school boy they thought he was, and they’ll do whatever is necessary to protect themselves. 
Another one that on paper appeared to be right up my alley.  Young female protagonists, internet drama/suspense, and fraught relationships.  Honestly, though, this is quite possibly the most depressing book I've ever read.  Everyone is so poor.  So, so poor.  And they'll never, ever escape poverty, no matter what they do or how hard they try.  Almost no decent adults, generally horrible parents, and the bleakest ending you can possibly imagine.  It's just horrible.  Every person is horrible, every situation is horrible, but none of it in a good way.  Just in a depressing, horrible, miserable way.  I had to binge on YA romance short stories to clear my brain after this one.


  1. Thanks, I'll add these to my list! The library actually ordered for me, gasp!, The Girl With All The Gifts, Confessions, Station Eleven and Damsel Distressed. I'm dying!! I can't go get them till Thursday and I was actually planning on starting these Jan. 1. I can't wait! I'm rambling because I believe you were the one who recommended these. I have heard Ugly Girls is horrific, but I do want to read it.

  2. I can't wait to hear what you think of all of them! And once you read Ugly Girls, you'll have to tell me what you think of that one. I have no complaints regarding the writing itself, just the bleakness that overwhelmed me. Can't wait to hear your thoughts!