cover image Deer Season

Deer Season

Erin Flanagan. Univ. of Nebraska, $21.95 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-1-4962-2681-5

PW reviewer Flanagan’s masterly debut novel (after the collection It’s Not Going to Kill You) dissects a young woman’s disappearance from a small town in 1980s Nebraska and the pervading suspicions throughout the community. Twelve-year-old Milo Ahern discovers his 16-year-old sister, Peggy, missing from her bed on a Sunday morning. Her family, assuming she has snuck out again to drink, makes excuses for her. But when her absence lingers, rumors begin to spread and fingers are pointed at Hal Bullard, an intellectually disabled 28-year-old farmhand. Alma Costagan, the brash school bus driver and Chicago transplant whose farm Hal works on alongside her husband, Clyle, defends Hal, though blood in Hal’s truck and reports of him returning early from a hunting trip raise questions. The narration oscillates between Alma reflecting on her 14 years of isolation in the town, her five miscarriages, and the pain of Clyle’s affair with a local woman; and Milo, a nerdy misfit struggling to cope with his sister’s disappearance and his longing to leave the tiny town behind. Flanagan balances the mystery and its surprising resolution with her emotionally rich character explorations. This is a standout novel of small-town life, powered by the characters’ consequential determination to protect their loved ones at any cost. (Sept.)