Thursday, 24 March 2016

One Man's Opinion: ROUTE 12 by MARIETTA MILES

“She buttons the top tab to her coat and when she slides her hand into her pocket, she feels soft paper underneath her fingertips. She had never been the kind of girl to get notes. A note is acceptance, and invitation to a life less lonesome. Notes are soft pencil marks, expectations, and friendship. She is surprised. Excited. She pulls out the paper and nearly rips it open.”

 Route 12 (US) is an unflinching novella that’s full of beautiful writing and excruciating pain. Three souls with broken pasts are brought together and become tangled up in webs of darkness. Percy is sent to a boys’ home/prison when his mother is sent to jail; Theresa has also lost her mother, in this case to suicide; and Cheryl has been left crippled by polio.

When Percy leaves the brutality he has grown up with in his institution, he’s full of anger and bile. The only way he can express himself is through sexual violence and hate. He descends upon Belle Gap where Theresa and Cheryl are surviving the knocks of teenage life and of growing up in impoverished circumstances. As the trio come together, it’s clear that terrible things are on their way.

Miles does a wonderful job of focusing in upon detail and creating mood. The sense of impending horror is strong and the way the strands of the tale are brought to life there are no soft landings. At some points I found the material so tough that I struggled to continue. This wasn’t because of poor writing. In fact it was just the opposite. The quality, rawness and honesty were precisely the reasons I found it so difficult. It’s a compelling read that will challenge more than a few. Read this on days when you’re either feeling strong or when you need a fix of something different from the norm.

The second novella brings together a cast of misfits to weave a sinister plot set in North Carolina. Pastor Friend is there to look after his flock. He has a particular way with young pregnant women who feel the shame of an era pressing down on them. He’s not what he seems, however, and his sick mind is capable of the most hideous of manipulations.  

Harrowing and challenging throughout, this is a heavy slice of noir that isn’t always easy to digest. Go dig in.      

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