Country noir — as dubbed by one of my favorite authors, Daniel Woodrell, is on my top shelf of genres. So I don’t mind dark brooding stories. Living in the same part of the United States as the fictional town of Henbane, we are lucky to be somewhat oblivious to the realistic base for this type of crime. The author began her book tour locally and mentioned at her first signing how she got the idea from a real life crime scenario that happened not too far away from here. While this particular tale is about some people who are seriously creepy and depraved, the events are told in such a way that a more desensitized reader (like me) continues eagerly turning pages.
Although the “culprit” emerged early on, I kept grasping at Lila’s outcome and her daughter Lucy’s future. My curiosity was piqued by more than just the beautifully crafted descriptions of Ozarks’ scenery I’m used to but that some people aren’t privileged to see. These characters became real women whose predicaments made me cringe, and I hoped in vain for the best for both protagonists.
The scenario in this book was more palatable than some to which it’s being compared. McHugh’s characters meant more to me than most of those in a Daniel Woodrell or Gillian Flynn story, because I wanted to like them. As far as the connections to those authors being drawn, there was more hopefulness for the women of Henbane regardless of its misery. Even though I realize the fuller desperation of Woodrell’s and Flynn’s females, my overall impression of that work may (unfortunately or unfairly) fall on how well they draw unlikable people. McHugh’s main characters are sympathetic, while Flynn admits to creating the lesser-seen female villain, and Woodrell many times pens women for whom there is little hope at all. Who’s to say which is more realistic of the three styles? McHugh is a burgeoning author who deserves her own kudos if she can ever escape the comparisons.
Even though I sing praises for McHugh’s ability to build tension, her characters aren’t 100% flawless. I had a hard time believing the implicit loyalty between the Dane brothers, family ties be damned. That much sociopathy surely limits the ability to truly love other people, even family, so the fierce devotion did not ring true. I, however, loved the juxtaposition of that loyalty with moral conscience and how the two concepts competed against each other in all the interlaced characters’ lives. The way McHugh weaved those ideas throughout this too-true-to-life crime story was done very well.
Truth is truly stranger and sadder than fiction, but we can’t live in constant fear of the criminally anti-social elements in our midst. I prefer to remain mindfully unaware, at the risk of living in denial, of that ugly felonious sort and just read about it through the creative capacity of writers like McHugh and Woodrell. People like the Henbanians (Henbanites?) are everywhere, and I carelessly choose to believe in the good (ala Lucy) and middle-of-the-roaders — those long teetering toward the good side (Jamie), even if that road is paved with gravel out in the middle of nowhere. Besides, it’s pretty out there.
I’d rather think the Birdies out-number the Joe Bills. Naive as it may be, I want to believe more quality citizens exist than degenerates. Let’s hope they’re the out-liers, the miscreants just laying low, hiding in plain sight but concealing their actions from detection, left to speculation within a good book like The Weight of Blood.