Author: Kelly Braffet
Published: August 2013 by Crown, 320 pages
First Line: ”Patrick worked the day shift at Zoney’s GoMart one Wednesday a month: sealed into the vaccuum-packed chill behind the convenience store’s dirty plate-glass windows, watching cars zoom by on the highway while he stood still.”
Genre/Rating: Literary fiction; 4/5 lost little girls dying their hair maroon and silver just to fit in somewhere…anywhere
Recommended if you like: Owen King, Gillian Flynn, Rick Moody, Peter Straub, books about people who are broken, Sofia Coppola movies
Review: Years ago, I read Kelly Braffet’s Last Seen Leaving, and loved it. (I’ve always meant to read her other novel, Josie and Jack, and don’t know why I haven’t. I plan to rectify this soon.)
When early buzz started circulating about this book, I was interested. Very interested. See, Braffet understands what’s at the heart of all of us: that we’re scared. And we’re broken. And we’re trying like hell not to let anyone SEE how scared and broken we are, but we’re not always successful. And it’s at that place, where we’re at our most broken, that we can either become something great, or we can completely fall apart; it’s in our hands to go one way or the other.
Patrick and Mike’s father killed a young boy in a drunken hit-and-run; they are now looked at with suspicion as the children of the town drunk. Mike greets this with a kind of blindness; he refuses to see any ugliness. Patrick, however, greets it with anger, with an inability to move on – and with an all-encompassing desire for his brother’s girlfriend, Caro. Caro, in turn, is on the run from an unhappy childhood, and is torn between the two men, neither of whom can save her, but both of whom seem to need her to save them. Layla and Verna are children of the town’s most vocal “home church leader” (think the kind of guy who gets the reproduction chapter cut out of the high school biology textbook); they are also terribly bullied at school because of this. Layla falls in with a group of goth kids, who seem to be her salvation, and brings Verna along for the ride.
These people, these lost, terrified, broken people, all circle each other like planets; they all bump into each other, randomly, like moths dangerously close to a flame. And there is flame. And people burn. They burn with longing and desire and hatred and insanity. You know, you just KNOW, that someone’s going to go up in flames; you just don’t know which character it will be. Angry Patrick, who seems to have given up? Fishnet-clad Layla, who’s walking the knife’s-edge between childhood and adulthood? Scared little Verna, who just wants so, so badly to belong, to be like her big sister, to have people stop calling her names and start seeing her for who she really is? Caro, with her dead-end job and her boyfriend who does very little but drink and watch sports all night long and talk sadly about the old days while looking through boxes of his incarcerated father’s belongings?
I read this book like it was my job. It reads like a gorgeous indie film. I had to know what happened; I had to know if anyone got out of this, if anyone was able to pull themselves up and out of this dusty little town. Every time I had to go back to the real world I felt cheated. I lived among these people for the past few days. I rooted for them and I felt their disappointment and I cried on midnight back porches with them, the moon hanging high in the night sky turning a blind eye to everything going on down below.
Kelly Braffet understands the parts of us we hide from everyone else. Not only does she understand them, she shines a light on them until we almost understand them; until we can almost pin down where, exactly, those parts of us come from. And in understanding them, we might be able to overcome them.