Book Spotlight: SUGAR RUN by Mesha Maren

Sugar Run by Mesha Maren
ISBN: 9781616206215 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781616208882 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781684416417 (audiobook)
ASIN: B079VTHG8J (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Release Date: January 8, 2019



On the far side the view was nothing but ridgelines, the craggy silhouettes rising up against the night sky like the body of some dormant god. Jodi felt her breath go tight in her chest. This road went only one way, it seemed, in under the mountains until you were circled.

In 1989, Jodi McCarty is seventeen years old when she’s sentenced to life in prison for manslaughter. She’s released eighteen years later and finds herself at a Greyhound bus stop, reeling from the shock of unexpected freedom. Not yet able to return to her lost home in the Appalachian mountains, she goes searching for someone she left behind, but on the way, she meets and falls in love with Miranda, a troubled young mother. Together, they try to make a fresh start, but is that even possible in a town that refuses to change? 

Set within the charged insularity of rural West Virginia, Sugar Run is a searing and gritty debut about making a run for another life.



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Read an excerpt from Sugar Run here.



Praise for Sugar Run

“The literary lineages here are hard-boiled fiction and film noir, but on every page of her debut novel, Mesha Maren creates bold new takes on those venerable genres, a much-needed refresh of worn tropes and clichés. Maren is masterly at describing America’s modern wastelands, the blasted towns not yet and maybe never-to-be the beneficiaries of rehabilitation and reoccupation. You can almost see Maren—like Raymond Chandler—cutting each typed page into three strips and requiring each strip to contain something delightful (startling simile, clever dialogue, brilliant description) offered to the reader as a recompense for a world that presses up against you all raw and aggressive and dangerous. A language that fully owns its power to capture just that ‘heart-wild magic.’ ” —Charles Frazier, The New York Times Book Review

“A darkly steamy first novel . . . ravishingly rugged . . . a literary page-turner, hair-raising in both plot and prose. Maren writes with windswept grace and stark sensuality.” —O, The Oprah Magazine

Sugar Run is a shining debut, with a heady admixture of explosive plot and taut, burnished prose. This is a book that loves its wounded characters and troubled places, and in so deeply loving, it finds a terrible truth and beauty where other writers wouldn’t have found the courage to look. I’m glad to be among the first to sing the praise of this young writer when I say that Mesha Maren writes like a force of nature.” —Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies

“We love Mesha Maren’s Sugar Run, a gritty noir novel like you’ve never read before.” —Entertainment Weekly  Sugar Run throttles . . . The clip is fast and exciting.” —Wall Street Journal
 

“In Masha Maren’s impressive debut, Jodi McCarty is released from prison after an 18-year sentence and is determined not to repeat past mistakes. While wandering around the South, she meets a young woman named Miranda, who has just left an abusive relationship. Together, they go looking for someone from Jodi’s past and head to West Virginia—followed by the demons that haunt them both. This slow-burning novel asks if we can ever really escape the past and start over.” —RealSimple.com

“The interlocked and heartbreaking stories of Jodi and Miranda and Lee and Paula and Paula’s simple, badly used brother unfold in language that is just plain grittily gorgeous. These are stories of violence and passion and squashed hope . . . and you will feel every word. A highly recommended debut.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“There’s an awful lot of talk about the underrepresentation of rural (or suburban, or urban) working-class life in the higher echelons of American literary culture. And while to some extent that might be true, the stories are there, as are the writers, we just need to pay attention. To wit, Mesha Maren’s debut novel, about a young woman’s return to rural West Virginia after 18 years in prison, deserves your attention.” —Lit Hub

“In Maren’s darkly engrossing debut novel, two women yearning for freedom fall in love, but the secrets of the past and betrayals in the present threaten to crush them. [She] skillfully handles a dual plot, alternating chapters set in the near-present and 20 years before. The novel’s noir tone and taut suspense are enriched by Maren’s often lovely prose, especially in descriptions of the natural world, and sharp observations . . . This impressive first novel combines beautifully crafted language and a steamy Southern noir plot to fine effect.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Dread and a lush natural world infuse Maren’s noir-tinged debut as she carefully relays soul-crushing realities and myths of poverty and privilege, luck and rehabilitation, and the human needs that can precede criminality through love-starved loner Jodi and her band of fellow hungry souls.”Booklist

Sugar Run, the strong and insightful first novel from Mesha Maren, puts stories to lives that are ordinarily overlooked, exploring damaged souls and damaged land, the need for that redemptive sense of connection to places and people. Maren writes prose that moves us ever deeper into her world without strain, but with sureness and vivid details. Drugs and flaring tempers, old wounds, and people who feel without hope but still dream of hope.” —Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter’s Bone

“With Sugar Run, Mesha Maren announces herself as a wholly original voice in contemporary fiction. Full of diamond-sharp sentences and perfect pacing, the novel runs wild like a mountain flash flood. In Jodi and Miranda and Paula, Maren gives us something we’ve needed for a long time now. Something new.” —Scott McClanahan, author of Crapalachia

“A heady admixture of explosive plot and taut, burnished prose . . . Mesha Maren writes like a force of nature.” —Lauren Groff, author of Florida




Meet the author

Mesha Maren’s short stories and essays have appeared in Tin House, the Oxford American, Southern Culture, Hobart, Forty Stories: New Writing from Harper Perennial, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of the 2015 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize, a 2014 Elizabeth George Foundation grant, an Appalachian Writing Fellowship from Lincoln Memorial University, and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Ucross Foundation. She is the 2018-2019 Kenan Visiting Writer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and also serves as a National Endowment of the Arts Writing Fellow at the Beckley Federal Correctional Institution.




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Sugar Run

Book 262: A PARCHMENT OF LEAVES Review

Every now and then I receive a book recommendation that completely surprises me (in a good way). A Parchment of Leaves by Silas House is one such book. I belong to a local book group that meets at the Charleston Town Center Mall on the last Wednesday of each month in the Community Room at Panera Bread Company (if you’re in the Kanawha County area please join us), and this was the book chosen for November. 

The story is set in eastern Kentucky during the early 1900s and centers on a young Cherokee woman and her experiences with her non-Cherokee husband and his family. Although there is racism evident against Cherokees, this is not the heart of this story. Vine is a beautiful young woman that becomes enamored with Saul Sullivan. Saul is just as entranced and in love with Vine and the two marry. Vine accompanies her husband to his family’s land and leaves all that she has known behind. 

The life that Saul and Vine lead is not considered a hard-scrabble life, but they do have to work hard. They must build their own home, which they do with the assistance of neighbors and family. They grow most of the vegetables and must slaughter chickens and hogs for meat. Vine washes their clothes on rocks at the nearby creek and they obviously don’t have indoor plumbing, running water or even electricity. Vine and Saul don’t miss these things simply because they’ve never had them and it isn’t expected. Saul works hard at the local mill and Vine works equally as hard keeping house. Eventually Vine gets pregnant and gives birth to a little girl they name Birdy. 

As World War I begins, Saul wants to help with the war effort and volunteers to work in the next county. This job means that he’ll be gone for long periods of time. Vine gets along well with her mother-in-law and loves her new family. But she is also wary of her brother-in-law Aaron. He has never openly done anything, but he simply always seems to be underfoot and watching her, even when she’s out in the woods or walking with friends. She is extremely cautious about Aaron but Saul thinks he’s harmless. Aaron isn’t exactly irresponsible, but he’s never held down a job and seems to want to experience a hundred different jobs all at once. After some time Aaron leaves the family and is gone for months before returning with a wife – a young and pregnant wife. Aaron’s marriage gives Vine hope that he’s no longer attracted to her, until it is pointed out that his wife, Aidia, bears a strong resemblance to her.

I could give you more details about the story, but I’ll stop here. It is sufficient for me to note that this is an excellent portrayal of rural Appalachian life during the early 1900s. Mr. House has crafted a story that is captivating and utterly believable. This isn’t a glossed-over, rose-colored view of rural life, all of the hassles, trials and tribulations are deftly revealed. I become so engrossed in the story that I had to finish it in one sitting, even staying up late to do so. Saul is initially the typical strong but silent man that openly loves his family. He becomes more outgoing as the story evolves but remains openly loving of his family. Vine isn’t a traditional housewife and mother although she deals with all of the household chores with ease. Their marriage has its share of ups and downs, usually as a result of outside forces. The story is different and the voice of Vine is unique, such that A Parchment of Leaves had me in a hurry to collect more literary fiction by Mr. House.