Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Qualities of Wood - Mary Vensel White
First line: "In the small, congested airport, Vivian didn't recognize her husband."

Vivian Gardiner has left her job in the city to spend a year in the rural home of her husband's late grandmother, Betty Gardiner. The house needs to be readied for sale, so while Vivian goes through the belongings left behind, her husband will be working on his second mystery novel.

The night Vivian arrives in her new temporary home, the police find a young girl dead in the forested area behind the Gardiner property. The death haunts Vivian as she works on the house and learns more and more about this "quaint" little town and the people who populate it. She may just find a few surprising skeletons in the house's nooks and crannies.

The Qualities of Wood is a book I've been wanting to read for awhile now and finally snatched my chance over Thanksgiving weekend. Right now it is available as an ebook; it was first published by the HarperCollins imprint Authonomy as an ebook exclusive but will be available in print this summer.

I'm tempted to say I fell in love with this book from the very beginning as I joined Vivian on her journey to small town U.S.A. Vivian had some reservations but the whole scene looked beautiful and inviting to me, my idea of heaven. I probably would prefer no suspicious deaths in my back yard, but otherwise...

Mary Vensel White has created a lush atmosphere in her debut novel, enveloping her reader in the sights and sounds of Vivian's foreign world. The dusty old house with bizarre wallpaper, the tall grass in desperate need of a cutting and the country road, slowly being paved over the course of the summer, these snapshots fit together like images in a flip book--each still photo a vital piece in the movement of the story.

And the characters are as quirky and fascinating as any you might find in a crowded subway car, illustrating the complexities of the often-stigmatized backwoods folk.  From Vivian's new gal-pal Katherine to the eerie neighbor Mr. Stokes to the dead girl's mother Kitty Brodie, everyone has their secrets. And as in many small towns, the stories make their ways around, but more in line with a game of telephone, the stories get distorted as they are passed from one person to the other. No one holds the whole truth and the misconceptions may prove deadly.

The plot is steeped in suspense. It has a slower rhythm. This isn't a thriller, instead the pacing coincides gracefully with the setting and the suspense builds gradually and hauntingly. White also employs plot twists that just may break your heart.

The Qualities of Wood is a striking debut and I'm anxious to see where Mary Vensel White goes from here.

The Qualities of Wood is available now from Authonomy (ISBN: 9780007469505) in all ebook formats. It will be available in trade paperback (ISBN: 978-0007523580) June 17, 2014.


Perry St Lawyer December 19, 2013 at 1:28 PM  

Your comments about The Qualities of Wood reminded me of Crazy Letter, Crazy Letter which I finished not too long ago. Can't wait to read White's book!

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