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BookBrowse Reviews Arrowood by Laura McHugh

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Arrowood

A Novel

by Laura McHugh

Arrowood by Laura McHugh X
Arrowood by Laura McHugh
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2016, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2017, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite
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A young woman returns to her ancestral home and confronts family secrets and tragedies.

Arden Arrowood has not set foot in her family home since she was eight years old. The house, named Arrowood after the family, has been vacant for seventeen years ever since Arden's twin sisters were abducted from its front yard. The girls, less than two years old when they vanished, were never found. The only witness to their disappearance is Arden, who saw her little sisters being driven away in the back of a gold car. Although the vehicle was traced and its owner became a suspect in the twins' disappearance, searches of the automobile, the man's property and several interrogations uncovered no evidence to show that he had taken the girls.

But now Arden's father Eddie has died and Arden has inherited Arrowood. Against the advice of her mother, she drops out of graduate school and returns to the house in Keokuk, Iowa. As soon as she arrives Arden is contacted by Josh Kyle, a young writer, investigating unsolved murders and disappearances. Josh has been in touch with the suspect in the twins' abduction and insists that Arden's memory of what happened seventeen years ago is faulty. Returning to Arrowood forces Arden to look again at the tragedy that shaped her childhood, to revisit the relationships at play in her family and her neighborhood, and confront the man she has for so long believed abducted and murdered her little sisters.

Arrowood is a highly atmospheric read and McHugh's prose is beautifully descriptive without slowing the action. The decaying splendor of Arden's family home is rendered more menacing by the persistent visits of the local caretaker, Heaney, who hints at a friendship with Arden's mother. Arden, however, is much more interested in reconnecting with Ben Ferris who used to be the boy next door and Arden's best friend — the only other person to see a gold car outside Arrowood on the day the twins went missing. She also finds herself drawn to writer Josh, who too has grown up in a family touched by tragedy.

This is an engrossing story that explores the aftermath of loss on those that live through it. The past haunts the characters of Arrowood and the novel has a creepy, almost gothic, feel, particularly for Arden, the latest in a line of Ardens who have lived in the house. Chillingly, all the previous Ardens have died in Arrowood: one of pneumonia, one from a fall, and another, of anaphylactic shock after a bee sting.

As Arden faces the possibility that her sisters were not taken by the driver of the gold car, she is forced to consider alternative explanations. Several hours of that afternoon seem to be missing from her memory. Where was her father on the afternoon the twins disappeared? Where was her mother? What really happened at Arrowood? The answers to these questions combine to form a thoroughly enjoyable novel of family secrets that explores the ways our characters are formed by the memories and beliefs we hold dear.

Reviewed by Kate Braithwaite

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in August 2016, and has been updated for the May 2017 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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