Review by: Mark Palm
Half of my family's roots are sunk deep into the hills of West Virginia, and it seemed like my mother had a chilling folk tale for every occasion of my childhood, so it's no real surprise that I have a fondness for fiction set in and around Appalachia and the Ozarks. From Manly Wade Wellman to Sharilyn McCrumb, to a wonderful novel I found called The Devil and Preston Blair, there is richness in the hills, and I found it again in The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh. It's a tense yet nuanced book about a teen, Lucy Dane, from Henbane Missouri. Lucy's mother, Lila, a mysterious outsider who disappeared under strange circumstances years before, is still whispered about in the small, insular community. When Lucy's friend Cheri is found murdered Lucy finds herself compelled to discover the fates of both of the lost girls.
The novel splits into two narratives, Lucy's in the present, and Lila's in the past. This move could have easily stolen the drama of the modern story, but Ms. McHugh does an exceptional job of inter-weaving the two stories to heighten, not diminish the tension. Although the twin stories of the mother and daughter are the heart of the book there are a ton of wonderfully drawn supporting characters, from Ransome to Daniel and Bess and Gabby. Birdy, in particular, makes me wish that Ms. McHugh would write a spin-off. She reminded me so much of one of my Aunts that it was scary. A fine contrast is provided with two more dual stories, those of Lucy's father, Carl and his brother, Crete, whose plot circles around the tale of the two girls. The rural background is so evocative and well-described that it too, emerges as a character, and has a large influence on the lives of the people who live there.
If all of that isn't enough, the story is a grueling exercise in suspense, as events slowly but surely build to a tense climax. Ms. McHugh cleverly balances her dual storylines so that neither runs away with the story, and both main characters, Lucy and Lila, are finely drawn, compelling and believable, the kind of characters you find yourself rooting for. That there is tragedy in their stories makes their heroism even more impressive.
If it sounds like I am raving about this book I am. The Weight of Blood is one of the best books I have read this year, and I can recommend it without reservation.