Greenbrier County native Mesha Maren is no stranger to these pages, as we recently featured her in “West Virginians to Watch” just this past year. Her debut novel, Sugar Run, is now out via Algonquin Books and delivers a new voice to the world of modern fiction. Maren’s world is one of second chances, as her main characters search for new beginnings out of the rubble of their past. Those second chances are set first in Georgia, and then into the hills of West Virginia, in the fictional Malonga County.
Jodi McCarty is recently released from prison and, after 18 years, sets out to find Ricky, the younger brother of her former lover Paula, and take him away from his abusive father. Along the way, as she struggles to adjust to a life of freedom, she falls in with Miranda, the sometimes-estranged wife of a former country music star. Upon her return to West Virginia, with Ricky, Miranda, and her three children in tow, they struggle to find what they are looking for.
Maren does a masterly job of not overly romanticizing Appalachia, and instead relies on the themes, both dark and bright, that define modern mountain life. Familial relations, addiction, attachment to place, the modernization of the landscape, both temporal and physical, and sexual boundaries are all explored within a driving plot that pulls you along with its mysterious past. Sugar Run has received a huge share of compliments from across the literary landscape, including Lauren Goff, who praised its “explosive plot and taut, burnished prose,” and Charles Frazier who, writing for the New York Times Book Review, says, “Maren is masterly at describing America’s modern wastelands, the blasted towns not yet and maybe never-to-be the beneficiaries of rehabilitation and reoccupation.”
Sugar Run is available at A New Chapter bookstore in downtown Lewisburg. newchapterbookswv.com