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Reviews of Sugar Run by Mesha Maren

Sugar Run

by Mesha Maren

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

    Paperback:
    Oct 2019, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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About this Book

Book Summary

Set within the charged insularity of rural West Virginia, Sugar Run is a searing and gritty debut about making a run for another life.

On the far side the view was nothing but ridgelines, the craggy silhouettes rising up against the night sky like the body of some dormant god. Jodi felt her breath go tight in her chest. This road went only one way, it seemed, in under the mountains until you were circled.

In 1989, Jodi McCarty is seventeen years old when she’s sentenced to life in prison for manslaughter. She’s released eighteen years later and finds herself at a Greyhound bus stop, reeling from the shock of unexpected freedom. Not yet able to return to her lost home in the Appalachian mountains, she goes searching for someone she left behind, but on the way, she meets and falls in love with Miranda, a troubled young mother. Together, they try to make a fresh start, but is that even possible in a town that refuses to change?

Excerpt
Sugar Run

At the Greyhound station in Dahlonega the van driver shooed Jodi and the redhead out into the parking lot. The rain had slowed to a thin, sifting mist.

Jodi tilted her head back and pivoted left, then right, trying to find east, but the yellow-gray dawn seemed to come from every direction. The redhead started toward the station, where a flannel-shirted man hunched under the tin overhang, smoking a cigar. Jodi followed. She couldn't think past this moment or else her mind washed all white again but the redhead seemed to have her feet set resolutely on a path pointed forward.

The station was warm, filled with the calls of departure times and TV chatter. Shelves of colored bottles lined the wall of the newsstand: the ribboned neck of Grand Marnier, stout-brown Jack, filigreed Wild Irish Rose, and below them, a spinning rack of sunglasses where, in the mirror, Jodi saw her own cavernous cheeks and pit-dark eyes. Got the worst of both sides, her grandmother Effie had ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. Have you ever loved a place so much that you were willing to do anything to get back there? Why do you think Jodi is so obsessed with her grandmother's land? How do her dreams and expectations compare to what it is actually like to return?
  2. What do you think is the difference between being "of" a place and being "from" a place? Lynn is a transplant to West Virginia and she clearly considers it home, but she knows that she is not accepted there. What do you think of her relationship to West Virginia and its possible destruction through fracking as compared to Jodi's or Farren's?
  3. Jodi and Miranda never talk openly about their relationship or their sexual identities. How important do you think it is to articulate an attraction or ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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...continued

Full Review (671 words)

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(Reviewed by Lisa Butts).

Media Reviews

New York Times
The literary lineages here are hard-boiled fiction and film noir, but on every page of her debut novel, Mesha Maren creates bold new takes on those venerable genres, a much needed refresh of worn tropes and clichés. Maren is masterly at describing America’s modern wastelands, the blasted towns not yet and maybe never-to-be the beneficiaries of rehabilitation and reoccupation. You can almost see Maren—like Raymond Chandler—cutting each typed page into three strips and requiring each strip to contain something delightful (startling simile, clever dialogue, brilliant description) offered to the reader as a recompense for a world that presses up against you all raw and aggressive and dangerous.

Minneapolis Star Tribune
Intriguing...lyrical...Maren adroitly incorporates issues surrounding poverty in rural America into her narrative, including drug dealing and addiction; lack of jobs; fracking, which destroys communities and the land’s ecological health; and gun violence, which can change everything in a moment. Maren’s story is engaging and full of damaged and provocative characters who, like all of us, can be misled by our hearts.

Library Journal
Starred Review. A highly recommended debut.

Booklist
Dread and a lush natural world infuse Maren's noir-tinged debut as she carefully relays soul-crushing realities and myths of poverty and privilege, luck and rehabilitation, and the human needs that can precede criminality through love-starved loner Jodi and her band of fellow hungry souls.

Kirkus Reviews
Darkly engrossing...This impressive first novel combines beautifully crafted language and a steamy Southern noir plot to fine effect.

Publishers Weekly
Maren’s impressive debut is replete with luminous prose that complements her cast of flawed characters.

Author Blurb C. Morgan Babst, author of The Floating World
Sugar Run is a joyride - an intoxicating, headlong exploration of the hazards of freedom and the deadly consequence of desire. Maren's blistering prose will take your breath away.

Author Blurb Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter's Bone
Strong and insightful ... Maren puts stories to lives that are ordinarily overlooked, exploring damaged souls and damaged land, the need for that redemptive sense of connection to places and people. Maren writes prose that moves us ever deeper into her world without strain, but with sureness and vivid details.

Author Blurb Laura Kasischke, author of Mind of Winter
Sugar Run is one of the most riveting novels I've read in years...This is the debut of a major new voice, one who offers us a reality more vibrant than our reality, but honest, raw, and believable.

Author Blurb Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies
A shining debut, with a heady admixture of explosive plot and taut, burnished prose. This is a book that loves its wounded characters and troubled places, and in so deeply loving, it finds a terrible truth and beauty where other writers wouldn't have found the courage to look ... Mesha Maren writes like a force of nature.

Author Blurb Scott McClanahan, author of Crapalachia
With Sugar Run, Mesha Maren announces herself as a wholly original voice in contemporary fiction. Full of diamond-sharp sentences and perfect pacing, the novel runs wild like a mountain flash flood.

Reader Reviews

Sandi W.

strings left dangling
I am not sure exactly what it was that I was expecting or waiting for in this book, but it never seemed to materialize. For a debut novel there was plenty of action in the story, some good character development and a plausible plot, but for me it ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Finding Employment After Prison

Work after PrisonIn Sugar Run, the principal protagonist Jodi McCarty has just been released from prison after serving a nearly 20-year term. She finds life as a free woman more difficult than she imagined, largely due to her inability to find gainful employment. This is a common issue with newly released inmates, and one of the leading causes of recidivism.

According to a 2018 study conducted by the Brookings Institute, only 55% of former inmates report any earned income the first year after their release. Among those who do find work, the median income is just $10,090. Only 20% of working inmates reported earning over $15,000. (The federal poverty line in the United States in 2019 is $12,490 for a single person household.)

A 2018 report by the ...

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Read-Alikes

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