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Bright and Tender Dark: Book summary and reviews of Bright and Tender Dark by Joanna Pearson

Bright and Tender Dark

by Joanna Pearson

Bright and Tender Dark by Joanna Pearson X
Bright and Tender Dark by Joanna Pearson
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  • Publishes
    Jun 4, 2024
    288 pages
    Genre: Literary Fiction

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Book Summary

In the tradition of Notes on an Execution and I Have Some Questions for You, a thrilling, wire-taut debut novel about a murder on a college campus and its aftermath twenty years later.

Days after the dawn of Y2K, beautiful, charismatic nineteen-year-old Karlie Richards is found brutally murdered in her campus apartment. Two decades later, those who knew Karlie - and those who just knew of her-remain consumed by her death. Among them is her freshman year roommate, Joy, now middle-aged and mid-divorce, living in the same college town and desperate for a new beginning. When she stumbles upon a twenty-year-old letter from Karlie, Joy becomes convinced the man in prison for her murder was wrongfully convicted. Soon she is diving deep into the dark world of internet conspiracy theorists and amateur sleuth blogs and bouncing off others touched by the long, sensational aftermath of this crime. They include KC, the trans night manager at the building where Karlie was killed; Sheri, the mother of the intellectually disabled man serving time; and Jacob Hendrix, the charming professor with whom, Joy knows all too well, Karlie was romantically entangled before her death.

Jumping between 2019 and 1999, Bright and Tender Dark takes us from the era of Reddit threads and online obsession to the evangelism-infused culture of the late '90s to reveal what really happened to Karlie. It is a compulsively readable, prismatic literary mystery that brilliantly mines the mythology of murder, the power of urban legend, and the psychological urge to both protect and exploit what you love but cannot have.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Pearson deftly moves between time periods and perspectives. Smart, assured, and absorbing." —Booklist (starred review)

"Pearson's rich debut murder mystery gathers potency from its portrait of middle-aged millennial angst and Y2K-era misogyny...Where Pearson shines is in her palpable evocation of both decades, and her rendering of the challenges Joy and Karlie face as women. Pearson's gift for texture and emotional resonance mark her as a talent to watch." —Publishers Weekly

"Pearson's debut is less a thriller than a loosely woven web of character sketches, several of which are only minimally related to either Karlie's demise or Joy's investigation...Artful but unsatisfying." —Kirkus Reviews

"Bright and Tender Dark's many facets mesh satisfyingly by the end. This is a perfect choice for true-crime readers of I Have Some Questions for You and My Dark Vanessa." ―Shelf Awareness

"Sensitive, aching, and far-reaching, Bright and Tender Dark explores one death and so many altered lives. Joanna Pearson is an exquisite writer. Her novel will sweep you away." ―Julia Phillips, author of Disappearing Earth

"Bright and Tender Dark is so propulsive that I couldn't stop reading it, but so beautifully and perceptively observed that I wanted to slow down and linger over every sentence. There are many mysteries in this book - most obviously, there's the decades-ago murder of a charismatic college student-but Pearson is also interested in the things we do, and don't, know about the people closest to us, and how we are sometimes strangers to ourselves. Anyone who's ever been obsessed by a crime story will find a facet of themselves in this wise, compelling, and gripping book." ―Rachel Monroe, author of Savage Appetites

"Bright and Tender Dark is a haunting and lyrical read with the pace of a whodunnit that examines true crime fandom without succumbing to the genre's temptations. Joanna Pearson masterfully intercuts between 1999 and 2019, taking us through the egos of academia, the pull of organized religion, and the possibility of miscarried justice to ask: how and when does a woman's life become a ghost story?" ―Becky Cooper, author of We Keep the Dead Close

This information about Bright and Tender Dark was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Mary P, NY

great debut!
This book did not go where I thought it would go - it starts out with Joy, a woman whose college friend was murdered 20 years ago. Joy believes the man convicted is falsely imprisoned and she sets out to figure out what really happened. There are many of Joy's flashbacks but much of the book also focuses on other characters whose lives have been affected by the murder. The writing is very good, very descriptive of the characters thoughts, feelings and memories of events around the time of he murder. The plot does not go where you expect, which I think is a good thing. It kept me interested the whole way, and that is one of the most crucial aspects of a good book for me.

Deborah G. (Black Mountain, NC)

Bright and Tender Dark by Joanna Pearson
Joanna Pearson's first novel, Bright and Tender Dark, focuses on the January 2000 murder of college student Karlie. Part mystery and part commentary on generational change, we hear the story first from the perspective of Joy, Karlie's freshman year roommate, and others—often strangers—who, in 2019, are obsessed with solving her murder—believing the man convicted is innocent. Then Pearson returns to 1999, revealing more about Karlie, her relationships with her family, religion, and several friends and acquaintances. Karlie's inner life is expertly portrayed, partly through her writings, including poetry. Pearson ends the novel with a return to 2019 and additional details that might resolve the murder mystery.

The writing is wonderful, but some of the characters seem cast primarily as red herrings or to represent diverse groups. This is an engaging read for anyone interested in academia, evangelism, and how we deal with love and rejection.

Mary O. (Boston, MA)

Twists and turns
This is a good mystery that bounces back and forth from time of murder to twenty years later when still unsolved. The murder continues to haunt those who knew the victim. It is very engaging and hard to put down. If you love mysteries definitely a good read!

Sara F. (Rocky Point, NY)

A decades old murder continues to haunt those who loved the victim and the killer
This lyrical, slow burn character study examines the haunting aftershocks of a murder that continues to resonate years after the killer has supposedly been brought to justice. The reader sees the death of one bright young woman through the eyes of strangers who are united by one terrible moment in time that changes the course of all of their lives in shocking, predictable, and tragic ways. Rather than grip the reader with thrilling moments or terrifying bad guys Pearson elects to drown us in an all too relatable grief that must surely grip anyone who survives a tragedy like this. This is a devastating, beautiful read.

Henry W. (Lake Barrington, IL)

Is it a mystery?
If you are looking for the classical who dun it, this is not the book for you . If you are interested in learning about the people in anyway touched by the death of a peer over two decades this is your book. As you become familiar with the various players you are entrapped into wanting to know what happens to them. At time the flipping back and forth between the year of the murder and its resolution 20 years later gets confusing at time as the relationships. In the end we find out the murderer in a complicated death scene. In the end an engaging read and a puzzle.

Debb R. (Carriere, MS)

Only average
I enjoyed this book up to a point and then it became confusing. I would certainly give them author another chance....not all books vibe with everyone.

...11 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Joanna Pearson

Joanna Pearson is the author of two short story collections and a book of poetry. She has won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize and been a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Awards, the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, and the Virginia Literary Awards. Her stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery and Suspense, and many other publications. She lives in North Carolina, where she works as a psychiatrist. Bright and Tender Dark is her debut novel.

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