There was nothing new in Heartshorne. Everything ran on a loop.
Dark House Press, 341 pages
Letitia Trent’s, Echo Lake, the flagship novel release from Dark House Press (who gave us the neo-noir anthology, The New Black, in May), is an atmospheric, moody traipse through the hard soil of memory and dark pasts that would just as soon remain buried, unmolested by prying eyes and modernity’s judgment. Part rural noir, part haunted mystery, it mainlines smoothly into the bloodstream and works its magic one unrushed line at a time until, like most (good) highs, you find yourself oscillating between past and present without demarcations.
Emily Collins, 30, who works “a proper day job that required pumps and stockings, her hair arranged in some semblance of order, and a professional wardrobe of blacks and neutrals” in Columbus, Ohio, finds a letter one day while sorting her musician husband’s mail shortly after their marriage has fallen apart. Sent from Oklahoma by a lawyer representing her family, it states that her great aunt, Fran Collins, has recently died, and left her house to her niece’s only living relative—Emily.
Yielding to the idea that a fresh start from her failed marriage is the right move—and spurred to no small extent by recent dreams in which her dead mother (Connie) suggests likewise—she packs her car and drives to Heartshorne, her home town that borders the man-made Echo Lake which for decades has submerged an older town, its skeletal fingers lurking just beneath the surface.
Only after arriving to the dilapidated, isolated house does she learn from the local Baptist pastor that her great aunt had in fact been murdered there. In truth, Emily has unwittingly walked into a town recently rife with unsolved murders and disappearances. Her own mother’s past (Connie), or more to the point, Emily’s ignorance of it due to Connie’s secrecy, drives the normally apprehensive Emily to investigate the town’s past for clues about her heritage, the process of which helps her to rediscover her own autonomy.
As a work of mystery, Echo Lake is as interested in the whydunits as it is the whodunits. The lake itself exhales both a literal and metaphorical fog, one that implies cause as well as conceals truth. Few are immune to its draw; fewer still to its murderous influence. Past and present crimes braid together in a way that stops time and denies exceptionality, and this is one of Echo Lake’s great accomplishments: it speaks of the violence and umbrage between and within families as a cyclical constant, doomed to repeat itself if never addressed. It takes its time doing this, but with Trent’s clean but elegiac prose (she’s an established poet), the scenery on the journey is always intriguing, rich, alive. Think the secret lovechild of Flannery O’Connor and James Dickey.
Ultimately Echo Lake is about finding and embracing love, however stubborn, however not ideal. Emily’s entire arc is acceptance, both of her herself and the overlooked love from her mother. Some of this she discovers through the people of Heartshorne; much of it though springs forth from the cauldron of the lake itself. A roiling, steadfast repository for all the darkness of the soul.
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