Book Review: Lone Women by Victor LaValle

When a lone woman escapes into middle-of-nowhere Montana to live out her homesteading dreams, you’d think it’d be the unpredictable variables outside the home that’d be her biggest concerns: opportunistic strangers, the insidious townsfolk, the unrelenting winter, men… But no, turns out it’s the guilt.

Ok, and whatever the hell is in the incredibly suspicious, locked steamer trunk she drags as her plus one into the frozen north. But it’s mostly the guilt.

With it’s incredibly short chapters, Lone Women’s pace hits the ground running like the lit match that ignites Adelaide’s gasoline soaked home at the start of the book, making the anticipation and tension for whatever will be revealed next ever escalating, as the supernatural-leaning story gives off major Midnight Mass vibes with its strong sense of foreboding, lurking danger, and themes of forgiveness, grief, and guilt – though far less religious zealotry in this small town, fortunately – using Adelaide to further the idea that we can often become so preoccupied by the things about ourselves that we hide that we can’t help but end up being defined by them.

More and more secrets are revealed as author Victor LaValle starts handing out hidden truths like Oprah to all the members of the community, and though I appreciate how this continues to play with how so many are haunted by their decisions and actions, this sudden influx does imbalance the focus of the story somewhat in the final third. In other words, when all I wanted to do was entrench myself in Adelaide’s relationship with the “trunk,” digging deep into this moment when she must confront her culpability and the repercussions of her actions head on (and whether or not she believes she’s deserving of the catharsis that would set herself free of her burdens), the book seems more concerned with rushing back to the action in town.

Maybe LaValle didn’t want us to fixate on the introduction of two jarringly random, plot device characters who I am still super confused about, or maybe he felt the need to be kinder to his protagonist in this moment by not reveling in the continued suffering of someone who has already endured so much – a completely understandable decision – but in a book that is all about what we earn, this culmination of all that came before earned far more pages than it gets in its climax, as an extremely complicated situation is seemingly oversimplified by how quickly it is brushed past.

Even though I found myself disappointed and wanting more from this moment, I cannot say that Lone Women is anything but a satisfying story about earned guilt vs earned forgiveness, and how there is not only no shame in believing that we deserve better than suffering, but also no shame in choosing to move towards that better for ourselves.

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