June 17, 2013

Racial unrest simmers in a suburban mystery

By Lori Roy
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Author Lori Roy’s 2011 debut novel, Bent Road, was an Edgar Award winner. In her new novel, Until She Comes Home, Roy has created a tour-de-force of mood and suspense, where old habits and new realities collide in a drama played out in a gritty and memorable urban setting.

If language can be delicate and brutal at the same time, this is what Roy achieves in a beautifully written, dark exploration of fears both real and imagined, of old ways facing upheaval. The author’s stunning word pictures convey the air and mood almost of a fairy tale or fable—strange, laden with foreboding, dark around the edges where it may initially seem clear.

Detroit in 1958, a city on the verge of cataclysmic change, contains fading factory neighborhoods filled with close-knit families of a solid ethnic white. Families struggle to cope with the impending loss of livelihoods and the first inklings of ethnic diversity. Faced with facts both inevitable and unwelcome, the women of Alder Avenue respond according to their individual private inner fears and circumstances.

Racial tensions crackle like summer lightning when a mentally challenged 22-year-old white woman disappears, seemingly at her front gate, shortly after a local African-American woman is brutally murdered. Glass shards litter the street; the wheels of a baby carriage squeal disconcertingly on the pavement. A red-handled hammer disappears. Homemade carrot cake fills the stomachs of the husbands and the time of the women as the search continues for the missing girl. Children both born and unborn figure large, and terrible events can happen, unspoken and untold, behind closed doors up and down Alder Avenue.

Roy perfectly evokes these immaculately clad and mannered women, right down to their de rigueur white gloves and appropriate hats, all in contrast to the gritty realities assaulting their well-ordered lives. During the course of the book, readers are asked to encounter, and maneuver, the often stark differences between perception and reality that course through the pages.

In this book, small descriptions are never “fill”: each adds a layer to the developing story, as events assault and then change our minds and the action unfolds in a changing kaleidoscope. Roy has contributed a challenging, thoughtful and riveting story. Seeing the marvels she can create with words, we can only hope she’ll continue to share her talent with readers.

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