Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Arrowood by Laura McHugh

Arrowood by Laura McHugh
Release Date -  August 9, 2016
Publisher Website - Penguin Random House
Publisher Social Media - Twitter
Pages - 270 pages
My Rating - 3/5
**borrowed from a friend**

Here is the Goodreads synopsis
A haunting novel from the author of The Weight of Blood about a young woman’s return to her childhood home—and her encounter with the memories and family secrets it holds

Arrowood is the most ornate and grand of the historical houses that line the Mississippi River in southern Iowa. But the house has a mystery it has never revealed: It’s where Arden Arrowood’s younger twin sisters vanished on her watch twenty years ago—never to be seen again. After the twins’ disappearance, Arden’s parents divorced and the Arrowoods left the big house that had been in their family for generations. And Arden’s own life has fallen apart: She can’t finish her master’s thesis, and a misguided love affair has ended badly. She has held on to the hope that her sisters are still alive, and it seems she can’t move forward until she finds them. When her father dies and she inherits Arrowood, Arden returns to her childhood home determined to discover what really happened to her sisters that traumatic summer.

Arden’s return to the town of Keokuk—and the now infamous house that bears her name—is greeted with curiosity. But she is welcomed back by her old neighbor and first love, Ben Ferris, whose family, she slowly learns, knows more about the Arrowoods’ secrets and their small, closed community than she ever realized. With the help of a young amateur investigator, Arden tracks down the man who was the prime suspect in the kidnapping. But the house and the surrounding town hold their secrets close—and the truth, when Arden finds it, is more devastating than she ever could have imagined.

Arrowood is a powerful and resonant novel that examines the ways in which our lives are shaped by memory. As with her award-winning debut novel, The Weight of Blood, Laura McHugh has written a thrilling novel in which nothing is as it seems, and in which our longing for the past can take hold of the present in insidious and haunting ways.
Mystery novels are some of my favourites. Their twists and turns always ensure a fun read, even when they are predictable. If they are done right, they can be a perfect way to spend a summer day at the beach. Arrowood, at first, seemed like one of these novels. It, however, quickly showed me it was something else entirely. Equal parts mystery, character study, and Gothic ghost story, it is a story that never quite sticks to one genre, or what is expected of it. This is both a strength and a weakness in this case.

The story's strength is tone, and atmosphere. The ghost story elements, while subtle, were especially well written. They are just enough to be disconcerting while not taking you out story because this isn't a ghost story; at least not really. The Gothic elements woven throughout do enhance the main plot and that is in large part due to their effectiveness at creating unease. This could have worked well as a ghost story in some ways, but the often gritter tone would have been lost as a result.

There is a gritty reality to this novel. The author makes mention of many other murder cases, kidnappings, and disappearances. This type of stuff is Google bait for me so. I, naturally, had to see if any of these happened to be based on true cases, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that they are. This adds an little something extra to the tone of the novel. It grounds it in a way. It makes the story feel more plausible, and it allows you to be pulled into the story with a greater ease. It also makes the story that much more unsettling. It is not often my tendencies to do a little research outside the novel come to anything, but this one did not disappoint and only added to what the author was creating.

Arden is a woman who seemed much younger than her actual age. While she doesn't seem frozen at the age of her sister's disappearance, she doesn't quite come across as a grown adult either. The traumatic events have paused her in a way. She hasn't fully allowed herself to move forward because she feels guilty. There is a layer of survivor's guilt that coats everything she does. Her character seems as though she feels unworthy of experiencing things because her sisters never will. The novel really is a character study of Arden and how she is coping (or not) with her grief and guilt. The author has constructed a character that is flawed, and sympathetic. She is, at times, an unreliable narrator which makes the story all the more interesting. I found myself examining and questioning her motives, even as I believed her version of events.

The ending of this story left me a little underwhelmed. It doesn't fully wrap up the story, or give proper closure to the mystery. It offers some closure, but also leaves things open to interpretation. It doesn't give you the answer.  It, instead, asks the reader to choose the scenario they believe most likely to be the truth. This may spark a lively debate among readers, but may also turn those who are looking for more closure from their reads away from this novel.

Arrowood is steeped in atmosphere, and beautiful imagery. It presents itself as many things, and borrows from many genres, but it really is the story of a woman finding a way to make peace with her past. It boasts an electric premise, and a set up that perhaps, ultimately, promises more than the novel delivers. I would recommend this one for those who like their mysteries to be more of a fascinating character study with the mystery being the background focus. It also seems a natural fit to book clubs who will readily debate the novels ending.

1 comment:

  1. I love books that leave some of the ending up to interpretation -- you're absolutely right, that'd be a great book club pick because of that. Great review, thanks for sharing!


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