Mr. Girardi spent an entire class period comparing Henbane to paintings of hell. The land was rocky and gummed with red clay, the thorny underbrush populated by all manner of biting, stinging beasts. –Laura McHugh, The Weight of Blood
If we learned one thing from Winter’s Bone, it was that the often overlooked Ozarks have powerful stories to tell. Laura McHugh understands the forested, mountainous region covering the lower half of Missouri and drifting down into Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas; she knows the allure of, and the distrust present in, those small towns nestled deep within the Ozark Mountains, as she lived in Ozark County (pop. 9,723) as a child. The Weight of Blood, McHugh’s first novel, allows its rustic setting to combine with a familial mystery so dark and paranoid it borders on surreal.
The Weight of Blood introduces the indomitable Lucy Dane, a model of teenage self-sufficiency. The mystery Lucy encounters (foremost, her friend Cheri dismembered and stuffed into a tree) unravels itself along with the mystery of Lucy’s mother, who went missing shortly after Lucy’s birth. The narrative perspective alternates between that of Lucy and her mother, between now and then. As the story progresses, the perspective changes to that of other characters surrounding the two women.
This alternating narration makes the story unpredictable and addictive. The Weight of Blood isn’t a whodunnit as much as a family drama where the reader must anxiously await to find out who exactly knew what was going on, and when they knew it. As with many deep dark family secrets, there are layers of willful ignorance surrounding the actual crimes. The Weight of Blood peels back layers of involvement like an onion, as everyone surrounding Lucy recounts their own experience.
I made the mistake of starting The Weight of Blood during finals, and it called out to me as I tried to study. I read many books of this type (I love mysteries of varying quality), and I rarely come across something with enough intrigue to keep me reading even when I’m tired. The Weight of Blood kept me reading way past bedtime, trying to get through just one more chapter…
None of the individual characters stood out for me here (Lucy herself, as with most teenage protagonists, borders dangerously close to a static Young Adult heroine) as much as the complicated motives and social dynamics between the characters enmeshed in each others’ lives. The Weight of Blood reminds us that other people, their intentions and their ties, are the truly unsolvable mystery.