I avoided The Casual Vacancy because I was afraid a story about the dark underbelly of a small town would be too depressing for me. Given that expectation, I was completely surprised by how much I liked the setting of this story. I liked the mystery, which kept me completely hooked. I also liked that the author used the setting to touch on deeper themes, making me think about how we sometimes ignore truths right in front of us and how we should sometimes try looking at our surroundings with fresh eyes.
The beginning of this story was particularly engaging. I was immediately drawn in by the beautiful writing. It was plain but poetic and felt perfect for a story told by a farmer who loves his family, his land, and his community. It reminded me of Sarah, Plain and Tall but wasn’t like anything I’ve read recently. I found the unique feel refreshing. The characters were so real, each with their own flaws and worries and secrets. I loved learning about their relationships with each other and their complicated pasts. By the time Patty disappeared, I was deeply invested in the story and couldn’t stop turning pages to find out what happened to her. This is where things started to get strange.
For the last half of the book, I often found it hard to even follow what was happening. As Jack searches, he gets drawn into a strange and decadent world which felt surreal and disconnected from the rest of the story. While this might have been intentional with the reader sharing the character’s feelings of confusion, I can’t say it made for enjoyable reading. Eventually there is a dramatic confrontation, which might have made all the strangeness worthwhile if it had resolved anything. Instead , Jack goes back to life as usual and we slowly learn vague details of what happens to Patty as she reaches out to Jack over the following years. Instead of the confrontation being followed by dramatic change leading to a satisfying resolution, the story trickles its way along to a somewhat flat ending. I thought this was a letdown after the promising beginning, but given the great writing, I’d definitely give this author another shot.This review first published on Doing Dewey.