cover image The Weight of Blood

The Weight of Blood

Laura McHugh. Random/Spiegel & Grau, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9520-6

In this clever, multilayered debut, McHugh deftly explores the past of an Ozark Mountain family (think doublewides, pickups, and possum stew) with plenty to hide and the ruthlessness to keep their secrets hidden. Seventeen-year-old Lucy Dane, from Henbane, Mo., is grieving for her murdered friend, Cheri, and her mother, Lila, who vanished soon after Lucy was born. Determined to solve both mysteries, Lucy never realizes just how close the answers might lie. Her father, Carl, and her uncle, Crete, are not forthcoming about what they know, which only makes her more curious. McHugh alternates narrators, presenting each chapter from one character’s perspective, but the most compelling is Lila’s (given in flashbacks to her arrival in the area 18 years earlier, as a contract farm employee of Uncle Crete). Young Lila’s hopes for a fresh start after a childhood spent bouncing from one foster home to another are dashed when she painfully learns that Crete plans to put her to work as a prostitute. In the present, Lucy uncovers evidence that puts her in jeopardy, leading to sudden, surprising violence, followed by a tornado that helps wipe the slate clean. This is an outstanding first novel, replete with suspense, crisp dialogue, and vivid Ozarks color and atmosphere. Agent: Sally Wofford-Girand, Union Literary. (Mar.)