Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Debut Fiction - SU­SAN WAG­GONER

Heather Bell Adams, Van­dalia Press (SEPTEM­BER), Soft­cover $18.99 (300pp), 978-1-943665-75-4 Sym­pa­thy is cre­ated for these dis­parate and com­plex char­ac­ters in a way that is worth sa­vor­ing. Set in the late 1990s, Heather Bell Adams’s Maran­tha Road takes a seem­ingly stan­dard setup of South­ern poverty lit­er­a­ture and bur­nishes it into a mem­o­rable, qui­etly com­pelling page-turner.

In a breath­tak­ingly short span of time, seven­teen-year-old Tin­ley Greene finds her­self or­phaned, set upon by a sex­ual op­por­tunist, res­cued, loved, aban­doned, home­less, and preg­nant. If this sounds like stan­dard Ap­palachian melo­drama, think again, be­cause in an equally brief span of pages, the story tran­scends ex­pec­ta­tions.

Rather than a done-her-wrong tale, the book is a round robin of first-per­son nar­ra­tives told from shift­ing points of view—those of Tin­ley; her res­cuer, Mark Caswell; and Mark’s ag­ing par­ents, Sadie and Clive.

Sus­pense is built through these nar­ra­tors. Tin­ley’s trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ences cause her to live in a half-real, half-fan­tasy world. Mark’s bipo­lar ten­den­cies go un­ac­knowl­edged. Sadie is blinded by a mother’s love and her gen­teel deco­rum, and Clive ex­ists within his own well of love and si­lence.

Though all cause suf­fer­ing to the oth­ers, one of the book’s great­est strengths is that there are no vil­lains here, just or­di­nary hu­mans with the flaws we all carry. Each char­ac­ter emerges as dis­tinct and minutely de­tailed, and the book’s abil­ity to elicit re­al­is­tic sym­pa­thy for their dis­parate voices is an achieve­ment worth sa­vor­ing.

The plot gets rolling in the first sen­tence and keeps un­fold­ing to the last page, yet stays firmly within the re­al­is­tic set­ting of a small South­ern town. Ev­ery time the book seems to set­tle into a pre­dictable story line, a new plot twist ex­plodes like a tiny bomb.

A con­fronta­tion af­ter a church ser­vice looms as large as a count­down clock in a techno-thriller, and the char­ac­ters’ con­flict­ing wants set them on a col­li­sion course that keeps the pages turn­ing.

The writ­ing de­serves spe­cial praise for its di­a­logue, which sounds ut­terly nat­u­ral, and its strong metaphors, which never reach be­yond the char­ac­ters’ ex­pe­ri­ences, as when Sadie com­pares cat­tle low­ing in the dis­tance to “a sound like heavy fur­ni­ture be­ing moved.”

Ac­com­plished, know­ing, and mem­o­rable, Maran­tha Road, by Heather Bell Adams, is a book to be en­joyed on many lev­els, not the least of which is that it is a darned good read.

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