Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Flicker of Old Dreams

The Flicker of Old Dreams by Susan Henderson
HarperCollins Publishers: 3/13/18
eBook review copy: 320 pages
paperback ISBN-13: 9780062686701

The Flicker of Old Dreams by Susan Henderson is a very highly recommended lyrical novel about small town outsiders, prejudices, and expectations.

Petroleum, Montana, population 182, is a very small, dying town. It has been in decline for twenty years, ever since the accident that took the life of a local high schooler and shut down the grain elevator, the town’s main source of employment. The younger brother of the victim was blamed for his death and sent to live with relatives.

Mary Crampton has lived in Petroleum for thirty years, her whole life, and during those years she has always been a social outcast. Perhaps it is because her father owns the mortuary, or because she grew up without a mother, but Mary has never belonged. Now that she is the embalmer for her father, she is even more set apart from the townspeople around her. She had dreamed of becoming an artist, but now she finds satisfaction in her job, trying to capture the essence of a subject’s life.

When Robert Golden, the brother who has been blamed for the town's demise for years, returns to care for his dying mother, old resentments and condemnations return and are all directed at him. In Robert, Mary finds an unexpected soulmate who is also an outsider. Neither Robert nor Mary conform to the expectations of the towns citizens, but Mary's burgeoning friendship and relationship with him shock and dismay the town, while Robert's presence evokes anger and acting out. 

The Flicker of Old Dreams is an exquisite, beautifully written, memorable novel. In fact, it is hard to comment on such a well-written novel that seems to capture the very heart and soul of two lonely people who have been considered pariahs by the town, yet are still expected to conform to the will and expectations set by the same people. These are finely detailed, well-developed, and wonderfully crafted characters. The town itself becomes a character, as the inhabitants seem to act as one.

Henderson has created an unforgettable character in Mary - heartbreaking and so tender, caring and loyal to her father and their dying town, even as it sucks the life right out of her.  Anyone who has ever lived as an outsider in a small narrow minded town or in a family of the same ilk will understand Mary's untenable position, where she can never be a part of the town and, really, must find the way to escape in order to truly live her life. Her father, and the town, expect so much from her, mostly to live up to their expectations, and yet give so little in return. The ending is perfect, presenting redemption and hope.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers.

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