Bitter Sun by Beth Lewis

Posted On 4 July 2018

Filed under Book Reviews
Tags: ,

Comments Dropped 16 responses

bitterSet during the heatwave of 1971 Bitter Sun is a coming of age story that takes a sharp look at the rotten core of a small midwestern town.  Having read The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis I was excited to pick this one up and in terms of writing prowess the author delivers.  This isn’t my go to type of read, lacking the elements of fantasy or sci fi that I tend to steer towards but there is a hint of magical realism towards the conclusion and the slow build of tension, the dizzy summer heat and the escalating sense of menace and small town claustrophobia feel so real that you can practically cut the atmosphere in the story with a knife.  I can’t deny that I read elements of this with a lump in my throat from trying to hold back the emotion.

Narrated by John the story takes place over a three year period.  John and his sister Jenny spend all their free time with their friends Rudy and Gloria at a secret den they’ve built away from the prying eyes of town.  Their summer days sound almost idyllic until they discover a dead body in the lake they usually spend hours swimming in, a young woman with no form of identification, shot and unceremoniously dumped.  As though the whole experience isn’t harrowing enough Jenny becomes obsessed over the victim and relentless in her determination that the four should investigate, a need that becomes more insistent when the authorities seem to have little motivation in uncovering the murderer or even finding the identify of the young woman in question.  It’s as though Jenny herself has a desperate need – one that is powered by her own miserable home life and the very real threat that she herself seems to face.

Set against a backdrop of a rural town in decline the story doesn’t shy away from the nasty.  Abuse, negligence bullying and depravity are the order of the day.  John and Jenny’s mother is a bitter drunk who takes out her frustration with life on Jenny – to such an extent that she is oftentimes afraid to go home.  Rudy’s home life is equally beleaguered with a violent father and brother who the majority of the town are afraid to even look in the general direction of and Gloria, whilst her rich parents and glamorous home seem to be the envy of many, spends a lot of time alone and is all but being raised by ‘the help’.  Added to this is the fact that the town is in decline.  The Vietnam war draft adds a layer of fear to the residents who already mostly live in abject poverty, struggling to find work and turning to seek solace in the bottom of a bottle.  The opening chapters don’t paint a pretty picture to be honest and yet as the story unfolds you begin to realise that the corruption that infects the town runs much deeper.

It’s difficult to say too much more about Bitter Sun without giving away spoilers.  This is a desperate and heartbreaking story.  The prose is absolutely stunning and in fact holds you quite mesmerised in it’s spell until the conclusion.  It’s not a cheery story and I’m not going to pretend otherwise.  There are horrors taking place in this town and what really adds an extra layer of disbelief is the way that people in the town simply look the other way.  The lies and deceit are deeply entrenched in fear.  If nobody sees the problem then it doesn’t need to be addressed which gives licence to a whole bunch of vile characters to do whatever they want to feed their own desires.  Draw the curtains and look away.

To be honest, it’s not new territory or ground breaking in many respects but it is so well written that the beauty of the prose keeps you hooked to the end.  And, I can say that my fear for the main characters was so very real that I could almost taste it.  I felt the horror that they felt as their worlds began to fall apart and their innocent illusions were ripped apart.  Particularly John.  He was so determined and yet so naive.  He seemed to blindly run into situations and you just wanted to stop him – and yet, in spite of his actions, whatever eventually happened had a feeling of inevitability.  I realise I’m probably sounding a little mysterious but it really is difficult to elaborate further.

The low down is this is a story of four young people and their rather bleak journey into adulthood.  There are rude awakenings and heartache aplenty and it won’t be for everyone although there’s also a glimmer of hope.  I try, as a rule, to shy away from comparisons but for me this author has a feel of DuMaurier or Tartt – a truly gifted writer with a way with words that compel you to read her stories even if, at first, they might not seem to be your usual bread and butter.  A harsh tale, beautifully told.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

 

 

Advertisements

The best of the best of the best 2016

As is my tradition I’m breaking in the New Year with a little look back at my favourite books from 2016.  Another good reading year with plenty to choose from and I admit that I struggled narrowing this down to 10, in fact I singled out at least 25 in my initial search.  I really did read some most excellent books this year in fact I was lucky enough to get through 120 books.  My list for the year is here.  Without further ado my favourites for 2016 with links to the reviews.

  1. The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence
  2. City of Blades by Robert J Bennett
  3. The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky
  4. The Silver Tide by Jen William
  5. Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
  6. Company Town by Madeline Ashby
  7. Fix by Ferrett Steinmetz
  8. The Family Plot by Cherie Priest
  9. Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  10. The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

I feel like I should also make honorary mentions for Monstrous Little Voices by Jonathan Barnes, Emma Newman, Kate Heartfield, Fox Meadows, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards, 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough, The Hike by Drew Magary, Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel and The Facefaker’s Game by Chandler J Birch

 

 

 

 

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis #RRSciFiMonth

thewolfroadThe Wolf Road by Beth Lewis is a post apocalyptic thriller set in a world that feels like the wild west and follows in the footsteps of a young girl who has to be one of the strongest and most readable characters that I’ve read about for a long time.

The story starts in a way that could be considered a massive giveaway as we meet Elka, out in the wild, stalking Kreagar Hallet.  I admit that I think this was a bold move but I also think it paid off.  I was hooked and although the final outcome was already revealed (to an extent) the journey itself is totally compelling.  Hallet is a monster of a man, driven by his own base needs he abducts and murders.  Until recently Hallet was simply the ‘Trapper’ to Elka  He took her in at the age of 7, named her and taught her how to survive in the wild.  Basically he rescued her and became her father.  Unfortunately the truth is now out about The Trapper, or Hallet’s, true nature and Elka is implicated.  There’s a new law woman in town hunting Hallet and she’s now hunting Elka too and as Elka flees in search of her actual parents more than one person is following in her footsteps.

At this point the story reverts back and Elka tells of how she came to live with Trapper out in the middle of nowhere until it finally brings us up to the current point.  This really does make for fascinating reading not to mention a little bit horrifying as Elka reveals memories from her past that whilst they might be easy to understand now, in retrospect and with the benefit of a little more maturity, seemed much more innocent to a seven year old’s eyes.

I’m not really going to go too much into the plot to be honest as I don’t think it’s really necessary.  For me, what made this story such a compelling read was the story telling voice of Elka and the frontier type setting.  Wanted posters, people panning for gold, sheriffs and swift retribution for criminal deeds.

Elka is an excellent character.  A little bit heartbreaking too in some respects.  She’s tough and prickly but she also endears you to her.  She has lived out in the wild for so long that she doesn’t really have much time for people and to be honest when you encounter some of her adventures you can’t really blame her.  Wild animals are just that – you can trust them to act instinctively.  Humans come with different guises, they’re sometimes duplicitous, sometimes sneaky and sometimes, hopefully not too often, vile.  The other thing with Elka, and I say this now even after completion of the book, I’m not totally sure what parts of her story were absolutely true.  I found myself with raised eyebrows at certain parts of the story – little things, for example, how she got her name.  Is she a totally reliable narrator?  I’m not sure.  And that could simply be innocently wanting to give whoever she is talking to the most palatable story, it could also be hiding very unpalatable truths.  On the whole, I liked her and I would definitely be happy to find out we can expect more tales from her but I have no idea whether this is intended as a standalone or not.

The other characters in the story are all really well drawn.  Hallet – we don’t get to hear much from him but the anecdotes and snippets shared by Elka gradually draw a picture and you can’t help but feel the fear that Elka feels as he stalks quite literally in her footsteps.  She knows how dangerous he is, strangely, her time spent with him doesn’t seem to be one of fear but now she is standing against him she certainly recognises the danger.   Elka also makes a friend.  A young woman called Penelope who has a rather sad story herself.  Penelope doesn’t have the smarts of the wild but in other respects she’s quite a canny character.  Don’t write her off as ornamental as she definitely has an inner strength.  The new law on the block is Magistrate Lyon and I certainly wouldn’t want to get on her bad side.  She’s tenacious to say the least.  Not that you will blame her when you discover her story.  Finally, we have the other ‘friend’ that Elka makes.  A friend with much more in common with Elka than anybody else.  A wolf.  Prickly, untrusting but loyal.  I have to confess that I’m a sucker for elements of a story like this and so I loved the parts in which the wolf appeared.

I can’t really fully explain why I was so enamoured by this book so much but I’ll give it a go and hope it succeeds in tempting you to pick it up.  This is a post apocalyptic book but it has a difference.  It isn’t focusing on the disaster, the before, the whys or even what the majority of the survivors are now doing.  In fact we don’t really learn anything of the history other than it being called the ‘Big damn stupid’ by Elka’s nan.  I love this absence of detail because to be honest it’s inclusion wouldn’t have brought anything to the story other than some unwelcome bulk.  This book focuses only on a tiny fraction of people such as Elka who have learnt to survive out in the wild.  On her travels, when she visits other towns she is herself surprised by the difference in life that the people there live compared to the one she leads and that hits you as a reader too, but I just loved this focus on the wilderness. The survival, the harsh setting and the fact that Elka, in spite of her upbringing is still learning to survive in these conditions. There’s a sort of beauty in the wild that the author manages to capture here and also a feeling that Elka is truly in her element.

This is a journey, across hundreds of miles of difficult terrain.  Elka endures adventures along the way and indeed hones her own abilities in a way that transforms her from the pupil into a person who can indeed survive using her own wiles.  More than this it’s a rather torturous journey into Elka’s memories of what truly took place during her time with Trapper.  (My advice.  Read all of Elka’s memories carefully and store them away for later.)  Trapper provided her with a home and shelter.  Let’s just face it, he was her saviour and I’m pretty sure that, whilst she doesn’t express it ,she loved him.  To discover the bad side to this man that she trusts to be her father is devastating and the only way she can cope with the knowledge is to think of him as two separate characters, Hallet and Trapper.  In a similar way she has closed doors in her own brain.  These doors don’t come unlocked easily and some of them will give you definite pause for thought.  I won’t say any more.

I have no hesitation in recommending the Wolf Road.  It’s dark and dangerous with characters that really jump out of the page at you.  It’s absolutely a compelling read and in spite of the massive spoiler that virtually opens the book there was, for me, no lack of tension – mainly because I was so desperate to find out what had happened in the past and what was going to happen for Elka as she moved forward.

Go and pick up a copy and give it a go.  A wonderful story telling voice that is unique and compelling and a story that is laden with tension.

 

 

Friday Firsts: The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis #RRSciFiMonth

FridayFirsts
Friday Firsts
 is a new meme that runs every Friday over on Tenacious Reader. The idea is to feature the first few sentences/paragraph of your current book and try and outline your first impressions as a result. This is a quick and easy way to share a snippet of information about your current read and to perhaps tempt others.  Stop on by and link up with Tenacious Reader.  As this month is Sci fi Month 2016 my book today is a science fiction novel that I’ve been wanting to read for some time.  Wolf Road by Beth Lewis:

thewolfroad‘I sat up high, oak branch ‘tween my knees, and watched the tattooed man stride about in the snow.  Pictures all over his face, no skin left no more, just ink and blood.  Looking for me, he was.  Always looking for me.  He left red drops in the white, fallen from his fish knife.  Not fish blood though.  Man blood.  Boy blood.  Lad from Tucket lost his scalp to that knife.  Scrap of hair and pink hung from the man’s belt.  That was dripping too, hot and fresh.   He’d left the body in the thicket for the wolves to find.

I blew smoky breath into my hands.

‘You’re a long way from home, Kreager,’ I called down.

The trees took my voice and scattered it to pieces.  Winter made skeletons of the forest, see, made camouflage tricky ‘less you know what you’re doing, and I know exactly what I’m doing.  He weren’t going to find no tracks nor footprints nowhere in this forest what weren’t his, I know better’n that.  Kreager looked all around, up high and ‘neath brushes, but I’ve always been good at hiding.’

My First Impressions

Wow – this doesn’t mess around does it.  What a great start, I’m totally fascinated to know what’s going on here.  This Kreager sounds a real place of work – I’d be hiding in the trees too I think.  Can’t wait to carry on.

What are you reading right now? Did it start out strong? Feel free to join in.

scifimonth2016