The Bright Forever by Lee Martin is highly recommended. Originally published in 2005 my hardcover copy has 268 pages. The Bright Forever was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and definitely worth the distinction. Although some reviewers have compared The Bright Forever to Sebold's The Lovely Bones, in my opinion Martin's work is superior and I enjoyed it much more. As far as I can see, the only comparison is that they both involve the tragic death of a young girl. After setting the time and place, the story in The Bright Forever slowly unfolds from five points of view: four of the characters and a narrator. Martin is an elegant writer and this would be a great discussion book.
"Thirty years after the fact, a schoolteacher in a small Indiana town narrates this gripping tale of a crime and the lives it has forever changed. On a quiet evening in July, nine-year-old Katie Mackey leaves home for the library, and never returns. In chapters written in different voices and jumping back and forth between that day and four days later, the author carefully lays out his simple yet mesmerizing plot, gradually revealing the dark secrets held by those involved--secrets that, when woven together, propel the action to its seemingly preordained conclusion. The teacher, Henry Dees, is a lonely misfit who longs for a child of his own. His neighbor hides a drug addiction even from his wife, and his discovery of Henry's secret longings gives him a sense of power. This lethal combination leads to a horrendous crime that leaves Henry wracked with guilt, knowing he'll "always be living that summer in that town." Martin's novel is hard to put down, as these dark and intertwined lives march inexorably to tragedy. ~ Deborah Donovan"
"I'm an old man now, and even though more than thirty years have gone by, I still remember that summer and its secrets, and the way the heat was and how the light stretched on into the evening like it would never leave."
"So that was how their friendship began, with this moment in the garage when they both admitted, without saying as much, that they were less than satisfied with the way their lives had turned out. They never said the words. They never said "lonely." They never said "afraid." They never spoke of the yearning or the wrong turns they'd taken over the years and the hard places they'd come to, but it was all plain in what they did say, which was, as Mr. Dees knew, as much as they could risk because they were just starting to get to know each other and how much could anyone stand to feel pulsing in another person's heart?"
"It embarrassed Mr. Dees for Ray to see how much the martins mattered to him. He couldn't begin to say what it did to him mornings when he heard their song."
"I couldn't have explained this then, but now I suspect that I had started to sense that he carried his own secrets, that he was expert in covering them over, that we were bound together by the dark lives we tried to hide."
"Life had gone on. It always did. That's what you learned as you got older. Time. It kept moving. You couldn't stop it. You couldn't go back to the moments you wish you could change. They were gone. They left you in a snap."
"I'd tell her there's always something around the corner, no matter how old you get, no matter how much you're sure you got a handle on things. Sooner or later you live long enough - I hope that girlie-girl got the chance - and the love and the heartache get all mixed up and that's what you've got."