BookBrowse Reviews Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Lovely, Dark and Deep

by Amy McNamara

Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara X
Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Oct 2012, 352 pages
    Nov 2013, 352 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Tamara Smith

Buy This Book

About this Book



This debut author's work features a teenage protagonist who finds ways of dealing with loss in a haunting and deeply affecting novel.

It is deep winter and the mornings have been dark for a while now. But I remember when I actually registered it. Perception is funny that way. Change gradually happens over time, but noticing it takes one studied moment. All of a sudden - or maybe not - you perceive that shift in the seasons. I look out the window as I get dressed in the early mornings and it feels as though it is the middle of the night. My running buddies and I begin our run in the woods by the river in the dim, grey-black light of dawn now; that strange, sort of other-worldly time when eyesight is a secondary, sort of backseat sense, when my feet intuitively take over and I don't even have to think about navigating the trail.

It's been a dark, otherworldly kind of week in other ways too. A Lovely, Dark, and Deep kind of week, in fact.

This haunting, lyrical story is Amy McNamara's debut, but it is clear that she is an accomplished poet who loves words and the very specific ways deep, true emotions can be conveyed by them. In Lovely, Dark and Deep, Wren, the main character, is struggling with the darkest kind of grief: she was in the car accident that killed her boyfriend. She has survivor's guilt, the horror of complicated circumstances, and a sadness that is so deep it renders her, for a time, literally speechless. She decides to postpone going to college and move to the far north coast of Maine, instead, to live with her artist father. There, she is unable to motivate herself to do anything - but run. She takes long runs through the dark and cold Maine woods at the edge of the ocean.

McNamara spends a lot of time showing the reader these runs. And I have been wondering about that. Why does McNamara do this? What allows Wren to run when she simply cannot function in any other way? What is it about being in the woods and by the water that is tolerable, or familiar, or perhaps even comforting? What is it about the dark and the cold that has, at times, a startling warming and illuminating effect?

Wren says early on: "I came here because it's pine-dark and the ocean is wild. The kind of quiet-noise you need when there's too much going on in your head. Like the water and the woods are doing all the feeling, and I can hang out, quiet as a headstone, in a between place. A blank I can bear."

I think McNamara's use of language is stunning. It conveys image and emotion specifically and perfectly. Although my circumstances are, of course, extremely different from Wren's, I can't help but also think of my runs. The intersection of the woods and water with the cold and dark is an otherworldly place. It is a place void of the objects that are imprinted with your routine and your history, it is a place where your brain can take a rest from sending out invisible threads of connection. You simply are in this place, now. Feet pounding, breath puffing, heart pumping.

Wren's runs serve as a gauge for how she is coping and healing in the rest of her life. With the help of Cal, a sensitive and kind man who is suffering from his own sort of grief, as well as the help of her father and a few other characters, Wren begins to dig herself out of the deep, dark hole in which she is stuck.

There were times when I felt like the story moved too slowly. But unlike my perception of the days growing darker, change does not happen in one moment. And McNamara writes about grief in a truly organic, true and palpable way and articulates just a fraction of the painstakingly slow process that healing can be. It is no surprise that she performs this task so well – she wrote Lovely, Dark and Deep after the death of a close friend.

I come to the conclusion that performing a ritual - in this case running - against a natural landscape, offers a very special experience of connecting to a rhythm (of seasons, of sunrise to sunset, of waves and wind) that is at once separate and a part of you. Of course the landscape holds its own deep histories and stories, and they matter to all of us (we would be wise to listen) but maybe what I mean to say is that those stories and those rhythms allow us to use our bodies - legs, lungs, hearts - to physically work through our problems.

Amy McNamara makes reading Lovely, Dark and Deep a place to do the same.

I highly recommend this book to young adults and adults alike, especially those who love lyrical writing and deep emotional exploration.

Reviewed by Tamara Smith

This review was originally published in January 2013, and has been updated for the November 2013 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Amy McNamara

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Overstory
    The Overstory
    by Richard Powers
    Many glowing adjectives can be used to describe a novel by Richard Powers: brilliant, moving, ...
  • Book Jacket: American Histories
    American Histories
    by John E. Wideman
    In American Histories, a collection of 21 short stories, John Edgar Wideman draws America's present ...
  • Book Jacket: I Found My Tribe
    I Found My Tribe
    by Ruth Fitzmaurice
    Ruth O'Neill was only 28 when she married film director Simon Fitzmaurice in 2004. Changing her...
  • Book Jacket: The Art of the Wasted Day
    The Art of the Wasted Day
    by Patricia Hampl
    Patricia Hampl wants you to know that daydreaming is not a waste of a day. Nor is spending time ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner

A love story for things lost and restored, a lyrical hymn to the power of forgiveness.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Girl Who Smiled Beads
    by Clemantine Wamariya & Elizabeth Weil

    A riveting story of survival, and the power of stories to save us.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Leavers

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

One of the most anticipated books of 2017--now in paperback!


Word Play

Solve this clue:

T E H N Clothes

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.