Sugar Land

tammy lynne stoner Red Hen Press (OC­TO­BER) Soft­cover $16.95 (334pp) 978-1-59709-627-0

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction - HAN­NAH HOHMAN

In tammy lynne stoner’s qui­etly pow­er­ful Sugar Land, Dara is in love with a woman—her best friend, Rhodie. But that is a sin in 1923 in Texas, and it’s one that Dara de­cides to root out of her­self by any means pos­si­ble.

That means tak­ing a job at the Im­pe­rial State Prison Farm, where she can avoid temp­ta­tion. The prison is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent world, crude and vi­o­lent in a way that she’s not used to. Dara’s dis­ori­en­ta­tion car­ries through her en­tire life; she never quite un­der­stands the worlds she finds her­self in.

The novel’s lan­guage is con­sis­tent and strongly South­ern, from its di­a­logue to Dara’s in­ter­nal mus­ings. Its jar­gon is dis­tinct and nearly au­di­ble. stoner brings this un­mis­tak­able world to life per­fectly.

Dara is prone to mis­un­der­stand­ing the world around her, but her ob­ser­va­tions of so­cial sub­tleties round out the text, show­ing its au­di­ence what Dara her­self can­not see. There is dis­tinct nu­ance to stoner’s style; she nav­i­gates Dara’s world­view ex­pertly. Dara might not un­der­stand the in­tent be­hind other peo­ple’s ac­tions, but the ev­i­dence is there in her minute ob­ser­va­tions, wait­ing to be in­ter­preted.

Much of what oc­curs in the novel is dif­fi­cult to swal­low, in great part be­cause the story takes place in a time when Dara’s iden­tity is not read­ily ac­cepted, even by her­self. Still, it’s the novel’s re­al­ism that makes Dara’s story so grip­ping. The grim as­pects of the story are han­dled well; there is no sense of gra­tu­ity in the ex­pressed prej­u­dice to­ward peo­ple who have al­ready dealt with enough. The novel’s bit­ter­sweet be­gin­ning moves to­ward a more con­tented end­ing; it does so be­liev­ably.

Sugar Land is a raw, spi­ral­ing, and hope­ful story about a woman who wishes that she didn’t love as she does, and the life she leads in the wake of her self-re­al­iza­tions.

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