BookBrowse Reviews Sugar Run by Mesha Maren

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Sugar Run

by Mesha Maren

Sugar Run by Mesha Maren X
Sugar Run by Mesha Maren
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  • Published:
    Jan 2019, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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What happens when no matter how hard you try to do things differently you end up in the same place where you started?

Mesha Maren's debut novel is a plunge into the depths of the dark Southern gothic with pulsing and dynamic prose. Her characters are vividly drawn, her plot taut with a breathtaking tension as it slides back and forth from her protagonist's deadly past in 1988 to her present in 2007, when she tries desperately to get her life back in order, only to find herself sliding backwards, weighed down by poor decisions and bad company.

Jodi McCarty was 17 when she met her first love, an older woman and blackjack hustler named Paula. The two women spent a year together, traveling to different cities, high on uppers, gambling, and robbing convenience stores. In 2007, Jodi has just been released from the prison term she was serving for shooting and killing Paula. She is determined to return to Georgia and find Paula's younger brother Ricky to save him from his abusive father. In the process, Jodi meets Miranda Golden, the ex-wife of famous country singer Lee Golden, and her three sons. She immediately falls in love with Miranda, and plans to take this newfound family, along with Ricky, to her deceased grandmother's farm in West Virginia. However, when they arrive, she discovers the farm has been sold, no one will hire her because of her criminal history, and the countryside is overrun by fracking developers. Meanwhile, Miranda's ex-husband is searching for his children, who Miranda took without his permission, and Jodi's brother Dennis wants to involve her in his drug dealing business.

These circumstances work in conjunction to demonstrate Maren's principal themes; that one terrible mistake has the potential to ruin a person's life forever even after they've served their time, and that damaged people are often magnetically drawn to each other, compounding their misery. Jodi can't even get a job at Walmart because she's served time, so when Dennis offers to pay her to keep drugs on the farm (where she, Ricky, Miranda and the boys are squatting), she feels she cannot turn him down. Legitimate society has given up on Jodi, so she feels she has no choice but to give up on legitimacy in return.

The reader learns at the beginning of the novel that Jodi shot Paula, but the increasingly suspenseful flashbacks gradually unravel the story of how and why it happened. Through these fragments of Jodi's earlier years, we see how she became the person that she is; and how she is, in some ways, reliving her past mistakes in the present with Miranda. We see how Paula became a destructive influence in Jodi's life and how Jodi's relationship with her molded her understanding of love and her romantic sensibility.

...Paula seems to her to be weightless, free of all normal responsibilities and constantly on the verge of something dangerous and great. There is a velocity to her that pulls you close. Her life lived like the coil before the strike.

Jodi wants to save Miranda, her children, and Ricky, but instead ends up in a web of codependency, as events spiral ever further out of her control. The chapters from the past and the chapters from the present often mirror one another in subtle ways to demonstrate the lessons Jodi has failed to learn, a deft expression of Maren's skills in plotting and building suspense. It is apparent from the beginning that Jodi and her fellow outcasts are on a collision course with catastrophe, and when it finally comes at the end of the novel, it is tenderly wrought. Maren's empathy for her protagonist's plight is evident and inspires similar feelings in the reader.

While Jodi is the narrator throughout the bulk of the novel, Maren dips into Miranda's perspective frequently, but these shifts in point-of-view are occasionally distracting. And despite Maren's attempt to make her appear so, Miranda rarely comes across as sympathetic. This is a minor flaw in the grander scheme of the novel, however. Sugar Run is a twisting, well-crafted exploration of love and desperation set evocatively in a southern town on the verge of environmental ruin.

Reviewed by Lisa Butts

This review is from the March 6, 2019 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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