Bloomsbury USA: 5/19/20
eBook review copy; 336 pages
Things You Would Know if You Grew Up Around Here by Nancy Wayson Dinan is a recommended debut symbolic disaster novel featuring a strong sense of place, magic realism, and environmental concerns.
Set during the 2015 Memorial Day floods In the hill country of Texas, this debut novel opens with 18-year-old Boyd Montgomery planning to spend time with her friend Isaac camping and panning for gold. The two part ways when Isaac leaves after being called by his father and Boyd has to attend her Grandfather's wedding. The area has been under a severe drought, so rain is welcome thought, but soon it is an overwhelming deluge and becomes the storm of the century. Boyd returns from the wedding and discovers Isaac is missing. She has special insights and knows that Isaac is in trouble so she sets out to save him, encountering odd happenings, a live scarecrow, disruption of time, and ghosts along the journey. Boyd's neighbor, Carla sets out to find her. Hours later Boyd's mother, Lucy Maud, shows up with her estranged husband and Boyd's father, Kevin, and they start searching for Boyd (and Isaac) with two other relatives. The land has experienced flash floods and rivers are out of their banks. Bridges are down. There is no easy path to try to find each other between the weird weather and otherworldly characters along the way.
The Texas Hill Country is described in sharp, memorable detail, which adds credibility to a plot that is also quite supernatural at times. All the characters are portrayed as complicated individuals. Boyd's gift of understanding other people's emotional pain and feelings comes with a price and adds significantly to the magic realism throughout the plot. The novel is packed with symbolism and is more an allegorical tale wrapped up in the package of a fast-paced disaster novel. The writing is quite good and very descriptive, but this debut novel wants readers to dig deeper, to compare and contrast the character's actions and appreciate all the symbolism. There are numerous examples of the juxtaposition of two views of the same thing - behaviors, emotions, desires, places, and people.
Interspersed in the narrative are short breaks instructing the reader about various topics - climate change, gold panning, flash floods, etc. which detracted from the actual plot. They weren't an entirely successful device for me. The stilted tone left by these breaks in the plot was rather disjointed and disconcerting. They also contrasted sharply with the magic realism, supernatural, and otherworldly parts of the narrative. 3.5 stars
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Bloomsbury USA.