“Bent Road” (Dutton), by Lori Roy: In the late 1960s, Arthur Scott flees from the race riots in Detroit, uprooting his wife and three children to return to small-town Kansas and the comforts of farmland, family and a racially homogenous town.
It doesn’t help that Evie bears a striking resemblance to Eve, Arthur’s younger sister, whose murder decades before remains unsolved. Evie finds Eve’s old dresses and things in her grandmother’s house, and she constructs an imaginary friend from them, a sympathetic adult to console her in the midst of her loneliness.
It also doesn’t help that when the Scotts arrive, a young girl with the same stature and blond hair as diminutive Evie (and by association, the late Eve the elder) goes missing and is presumed dead. The primary suspect is Evie’s uncle Ray. Townspeople suspect that he also killed Eve, though he was never charged.
Ray is now married to Arthur’s other sister, Ruth. He’s a violent alcoholic, and Ruth is his primary punching bag.
Everything about this unnamed Kansas town is violent, from the sharp curves of Bent Road to the young boys who kill kittens for fun to Arthur himself, who turns to physical means to protect his family from Ray’s rampages.
The violence, along with the relative unease of the other Scotts’ response to it, is depicted in short glimpses rather than the whole picture. It’s an even more effective style when acts of violence are perceived through the children’s eyes.
“Bent Road,” Lori Roy’s debut novel, is haunting and atmospheric, set in a place where “everyone knows everything about everybody,” yet acts on misinformation and half-truths, with devastating consequences.