I read Lori Roy’s Bent Road in one sitting, starting it when I couldn’t get to sleep one night and staying up, eyes heavy, drinking fully caffeinated tea so I could finish it. The second entry in the race to the MWA Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author, Bent Road is the story of one family, one rural community, and the secrets of the human heart that bind them together while tearing them apart.
The family in question is the Scotts. Father Arthur left his small Kansas town twenty years previously, but he’s on his way back with wife Celia, son Daniel, and daughters Elaine and Evie, having decided that Detroit is no place to raise a family. Roy establishes a sense of foreboding in the first few pages, as Celia, Daniel and Evie drive through the darkness toward their new life, straining to see down the road while the shadows dart.
That foreboding is amplified as more characters are introduced, and the reader soon realizes that still waters run deep, indeed. Arthur’s sister Eve died as a teenager, in a way that was apparently shocking but is not fully understood. Eve’s boyfriend Ray – so loving and happy at the time – subsequently married their sister Ruth. The marriage is unhappy, tragically so. Daniel yearns for his father’s approval. And little Evie has a strong physical resemblance to her aunt Eve, as well as to little Julianne Robinson. Then Julianne disappears.
This debut novel is well-plotted, the characters are singular and yet familiar, the relationships complex, and Roy does an amazing job at building tension and revealing information in a way that is appropriate within the plot. There is no cheating. The resolution to the Julianne’s disappearance is satisfying and sad, and the resolution to the family drama is much the same.
Comparison to Red on Red: Both focus on the humanity of the characters. Both reveal the underlying inter-relations of the plot threads slowly, throughout the book. But Bent Road is a page-turner (I literally refused to put it down), while Red on Red requires a persistent spirit to keep reading to the end.
No surprise, here’s the ranking: