Jodi, sentenced to a lifetime in prison, finds herself unexpectedly turned loose after just 18 years. In some ways, the world that greets her is disarmingly foreign - pop stars have risen and fallen, the Internet has exploded into existence, and her late Aunt Effie’s West Virginia land is succumbing to weeds and trespassers. Yet, much continues on as before, particularly in her hometown, adjacent to Effie’s land, where her parents live from one government check to the next, blowing the bulk of each on cigarettes and booze, and where her brothers oscillate between the roles of friend and foe.
Jodi’s tale unfolds on two timelines: in 1989, the narration inches toward revealing the crime that landed Jodi a life sentence; in 2007, Jodi strives to recover her land from the gaping jaws of a nearby fracking operation and her life from destructive forces both within and outside her control. Determined to make amends for her crime the only way she can think of and hopeful that doing so will imbue her life with structure and purpose, Jodi retreats to her old haunts and, desperate for work and kinship, attempts to build a life for herself and the five strangers she has haphazardly selected as her new family through a cocktail of chance, circumstance, and teenage pact.
Set against the relentless pulse of a fracking operation that moves ever closer to Jodi and her neighbors, polluting their water and altering the physical and social landscapes, Sugar Run unfolds in burnished and beautiful prose, lingering and seductive, taut and gritty. “As they approached the bottom of the mountain the noise of the fracking grew, the low gurgle of trucks in motion and over it a constant hollow knocking sound. The fire at the top of the tower throbbed, a perfect Pentecostal tongue of flame, and the road clogged with traffic,” Maren writes. The novel is sprinkled with passages like this, passages that evoke a dark beauty, particular to the complex characters Maren has crafted.
Sugar Run is precisely the propulsive, gritty debut novel that I didn’t know I wanted, but am delighted to have discovered. Put this book at the top of your TBR list.
(And ask your booksellers about meeting Mesha Maren when she visits Main Street Books in March!)