BearCat Press; 5/7/2013
Trade Paperback, 428 pages
Randi Jo Gaylor's family is poorer than dirt. Yet the little girl survives with an optimistic attitude despite imagining a Fear Angel haunts her. Through four decades, she covers up murder and betrayal by others until a threat against her daughter forces her to take an action she never thought herself capable of... killing a man she'd once loved
In Notown by Tess Collins we meet Randi Jo Gaylor. Randi Jo, or RJ, grew up in Notown, a backwater poverty-stricken Appalachian neighborhood in Kentucky. This destitute area is known for it's indigent residents, pilfering ways, and coal miners. Everyone who lives in Notown knows they are at the bottom of society and everyone who lives in the areas surrounding Notown won't let them forget that they are white trash.
Notown begins at the end, in 1987 when all we know is that Randi Jo has a former husband tied up and is about to torch him. This startling tableaux stands in sharp contrast to the Randi Jo we then meet, at 9 years old. She is a small girl from Notown who shoplifts what she wants, if the occasion arises, but she also loves her family. We know she has a guiding angel, fear, who will surface throughout the novel. Even while she is protective of her family and determined to make her way out of Notown, she's a small female child in an impossible situation where abuse can take many forms. At 9 is when she first meets Connor Herne, who eventually becomes her husband. The novel follows RJ for forty years of her life.
Collins does an excellent job developing her characters and the setting for the novel. It was very easy to feel like you are there, in that time, going through everything with Randi Jo. Even while you are following along in her life, you know she is going to end up having a man she loved tied to a chair. You know she is pouring out gasoline and is planning to burn him alive. As you follow her life you have the quandary of trying to reconcile the RJ you are seeing with the one you know is coming. You'll be trying to catch the clues, guess the pieces to the puzzle that will lead her to this ending.
While I really liked Notown, I also had a hard time readily accepting a few of the choices Randi Jo makes. They were simple incomprehensible choices to me. I understand that people make these kinds of rash, bad decisions every day, but that doesn't make them understandable. All actions have consequences. It did leave me thinking less of her as a character. On the other hand, Collins held my interest to the end, even while I was muttering.
This is the first installment in a planned Midnight Valley Quartet of novels. Including a list of resources for victims of domestic abuse and violence at the end of the novel was an extremely good addition.
Highly Recommended - and I am likely to consider reading book two in the quartet, The Hunter of Hertha.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of BearCat Press via Netgalley for review purposes.