The Weight of Blood (11 March 2014) by Laura McHugh

The Weight of BloodThe Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

2.5 stars

I feel bad about giving The Weight of Blood only 2.5 stars, as despite its flaws, it is an enjoyable and effortless read. I hope that Laura McHugh continues to write, because she clearly has talent as a storyteller, by creating an interesting plot and capturing a strong sense of the American South.
The Weight of Blood is the story primarily of Lila and Lucy, a mother and daughter who separately narrate their lives in a small town in the Ozark Mountains. Lila disappeared when Lucy was young, and as the reader, we are privy to what really happened to Lila in a way that her daughter is not. Lucy, for her part, is now a teenager, and begins to investigate the recent murder and dismemberment of her friend, Cheri. As Lucy begins to investigate Cheri’s death, she begins to wonder if it might be connected to her mother’s disappearance years before. Also at the center of the story are Lucy’s father, Carl, and her uncle, Crete. These two men may or may not be what they appear. In any case, Lucy’s search will turn up secrets long buried and cause her to reevaluate everything she knows about the people around her.
I very much enjoyed reading about the small town of Henbane, which is described as a “dark spot” viewed from space due to its lack of lights. It is fun to realize that places like this still exist in America along with big cities like New York or LA. The Weight of Blood also moved along at a brisk pace; I was immediately drawn in by the plot and characters. At times, the style of writing reminded me of a young-adult novel, although I’m not sure why.
Despite being an interesting story, The Weight of Blood also has some flaws. The first problem is that it is narrated by just about everybody in the town, each character recounting different chapters. This technique can be powerful, as in the very different The Spinning Heart. In that book, author Donal Ryan uses multiple narrators to demonstrate people’s limited perceptions, as well as how people often have skewed interpretations about their own behavior. However, in The Weight of Blood, it seems like the multiple narrators are merely an easy way for McHugh to be omniscient. Rather than having Lucy figure out the mystery of Lila’s disappearance, McHugh simply has Lila tell us her story, as well as having those involved in the murder of Cheri tell us what happened. The idea of an all-knowing narrator has gone out of vogue, but McHugh tries to get around this by using whatever character she needs to fill in the blanks in the story.
On top of this, I was thoroughly confused for almost the first half of the novel, because it was not clarified that Lila and Lucy were living in different time periods. The book simply started with alternating chapters labeled “Lila” and “Lucy,” both of whom are teenagers. Since Lila comes from out of town, and Lucy is a Henbane native, I assumed that the two girls were going to meet and become friends. Then, a ways into the story, the two girls start referring to Carl and Crete, who act one way around Lila, and completely differently around Lucy. I was thoroughly confused, thinking that McHugh had written more than one character named Carl and Crete into her story. Finally, I realized that Lila was Lucy’s mother, and that her narration was of events from the past. My guess is that if things were that unclear to me, that some other readers will also be confused with the way the book was presented. The novel could have been much clearer if there were simply dates at the beginning of each chapter.
But even this confusion might have been cleared up more quickly if not for the fact, as referred to above, that many of the characters in the novel behave inconsistently. I love complex characters, characters with hidden depths, but when characters behave in new ways, their actions have to also seem believable. Unfortunately, some of the apparent “good guys” in The Weight of Blood also do all kinds of bad things, and visa versa, in a way that is hard to believe.  I also found it difficult to reconcile how apparently good people didn’t report crimes to the police.
And finally, I felt that McHugh used a deux ex machina rather conveniently in the form of a tornado to bring the story to a climax, and neatly solve some problems.
In the end, The Weight of Blood was a good story with weaknesses. But I hope McHugh continues to write and improve, and if she does, I would be interested to read her books in future.
I received an advance review copy of The Weight of Blood from the publisher through NetGalley.

View all my reviews

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