When her reckless, drug-abusing sister is found dead, lying face down and unattended in the snow, Alma must return to her hometown and help police with the investigation. It could have just been exposure – having had the bad luck to pass out unconscious in the brutal Montana cold - or it could have been murder.
In Vicky and Alma, La Seur creates a tension of opposites. Though on the one hand they seem a bit like stock characters – in fact, many of the characters in this book seemed archetypal to me – it’s compelling to watch Alma’s steely resolve crumble, to bear witness as she learns that not everything can be controlled, stored away, hidden from. As she’s forced to reacquaint herself with the people that made up her past and the mistakes that perhaps led to this present, Alma must examine her long-ago choices, and see if there is anything she can do now to make them right.
It’s always heartening to watch a character go on this sort of journey, to come up against moments of reckoning, to grab that long-lost chance. My problem here was that I couldn’t connect to the characters – or even to the plot. It felt very much as if the author was trying to check all her boxes, to keep all her cogs in place, to ensure the pace moved meanderingly along to the denouement. Vicky’s death never felt like a loss to me – only the event that set the story in motion. I couldn’t feel the gravity of her passing, perhaps because the people touched by her death – her sister, her young child – are resolved not to cry. As a reader, I was waiting for the chink in the armor, for the moment that would make the tragedy seem tragic instead of just a call for efficacy.
I wish I hadn’t felt so detached, because I thought the book held great promise. It’s being compared with dramas like The House Girl which I loved and, structured differently, I think it could’ve been very powerful. Throughout, I wanted first person narration rather than third, and a novel told in multiple voices: Maybe Vicky’s, post-mortem, Lovely Bones style, Alma’s and finally Vicky’s daughter, Brittany. Pete the turned-around older brother and Uncle Walt, a volatile Vietnam vet, could’ve also been good narrative choices – especially because either of them could’ve stopped Vicky’s death from happening.
I think this sort of creativity was hampered by the direct journey we take from beginning to end. (The book is even told chronologically, with no straying from the timeline). But who knows – this is only a debut, with some very strong, evocative writing, particularly on its first few pages. We will see more from this author. Perhaps on her next attempt, she will show us more reach.
Many thanks to TLC Book Tours for my advance review copy!