Bent Road by Lori Roy
Published by Dutton Adult, an imprint of Penguin
Arthur Scott has tried to avoid the fact of his sister Eve’s death for over twenty years, to such a degree that he left his hometown in rural Kansas and never looked back. But when the 1967 race riots in Detroit make him fear for his family’s safety, he moves his wife Celia and their three children to a home on the road he grew up on, Bent Road. Arthur and their oldest daughter have no problem with their new small-town life, but Celia and their two youngest children have more trouble adjusting. Celia doesn’t understand the beauty of small-town life, and she really doesn’t understand the complexities and intricacies of Arthur’s dysfunctional family. And when a young girl in town disappears, all of Arthur’s buried family secrets surrounding his own sister’s death threaten to come to the surface, changing this family forever.
I want to begin by saying that this book is nothing like I expected. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because I did end up happy with it, but what I am saying is don’t go into it with any expectations. I was expecting a literary thriller – Tana French style – and that is not at all what Bent Road is. Just sayin’.
Instead of being a literary thriller, Bent Road is more of a character study revolving around two mysteries – what really happened to Arthur’s sister, Eve, and what happened to the missing little girl. While these mysteries are important aspects of the story, and the answers are revealed by the end of the book, the mystery aspect of the novel is secondary to the character development and the study of Arthur’s family – the family he created with Celia and the family he grew up with and has now come back to.
Arthur’s family of origin is dysfunctional with a capital D. The character my heart most broke for in this novel was Celia, because she was basically forced to live among this family she didn’t know much about, hadn’t spent any time with in the twenty years she and Arthur had been together, and came to find out that there are serious family issues, and to top it all off her mother-in-law didn’t much like her. It was sort of a train wreck waiting to happen and I really admired Celia at one point in the story because she does stick up for herself and try to protect her three children among all the chaos and drama surrounding them.
The writing in Bent Road is really fantastic and while the I would consider the novel to be of the slower variety, I was immersed in it. Completely. I loved how Roy played her characters against one another, how she built these relationships and how she wrote such distinctive, descriptive, interesting people. Yes they were dysfunctional and not emotionally stable people, but they were incredibly interesting to me and I couldn’t stop reading to find out what they would do or say next.
I read Bent Road for book club and we actually got to chat with Lori Roy over Skype, which was pretty cool. We had the opportunity to ask some questions about what her motivations were for several of the aspects of the book, which I think cleared up some things for me. Getting the chance to speak with the creator of a novel is such a great experience – it made the book so much more real to me, more tangible I guess you could say. Very cool.
While I can’t say I loved every single thing about Bent Road, I thought it was a solid novel and overall I wound up being very satisfied with it. I had a little trouble with the fact that it was so different from my expectations, but if you go in knowing this is not a thriller, or even a mystery in the traditional sense, you will be much better off. Expect more of a slower paced, character-driven novel and you will probably be a happier person in the end. I would definitely recommend Bent Road if you enjoy those types of novels.