Today I am going to share some thoughts on two books that pushed me out of my reading comfort zone in two entirely different directions. The High Divide, a historical novel about the great American west, let me explore the history of the region that I call home. Broken Monsters, a contemporary murder mystery, played around with supernatural elements in a traditional murder mystery novel. Since I don’t read much historical fiction or crime fiction, I thought these two matched up well for some reviewletts.
The High Divide by Lin Enger
In 1886, Gretta Pope wakes one morning to discover that her husband is gone. Ulysses Pope has left his family behind on the far edge of Minnesota’s western prairie with only the briefest of notes and no explanation for why he left or where he’s headed. It doesn’t take long for Gretta’s young sons, Eli and Danny, to set off after him, following the scant clues they can find, jumping trains to get where they need to go, and ending up in the rugged badlands of Montana. Gretta has no choice but to search for her sons and her husband, leading her to the doorstep of a woman who seems intent on making Ulysses her own. Meanwhile, the boys find that the closer they come to Ulysses’ trail, the greater the perils that confront them, until each is faced with a choice about whom he will defend, and who he will become.
I probably wouldn’t have picked up a copy of The High Divide if it hadn’t been for the persuasive pitch for the book from friend and fellow book blogger Leslie (Regular Rumination). While we were at Book Expo America, Leslie (who at the time had a publishing connection to Algonquin) told me she thought I’d really like this book — a story that begins on the plains of Minnesota and meanders throughout the American west. I was further charmed by the fact that the author, Lin Enger, knew exactly where I live (no one knows that my small town even exists) and was very articulate when speaking about the inspiration for this book.
With all of those positive vibes helping it out, I’m happy to report that The High Divide was a good read. The members of the Pope family each approach their odyssey with a different mission, but come together in a satisfying way. And I really enjoyed the way that Enger set their fictional story against a strange historical footnote that I didn’t know anything about. It’s a pretty traditional story, full of fathers and sons and contemplation on America and identity and choice that I think will resonate with many readers.
Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies. But this one is unique even by Detroit’s standards: half boy, half deer, somehow fused together. As stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams? If you’re Detective Versado’s geeky teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you’re desperate freelance journalist Jonno, you do whatever it takes to get the exclusive on a horrific story. If you’re Thomas Keen, known on the street as TK, you’ll do what you can to keep your homeless family safe — and find the monster who is possessed by the dream of violently remaking the world.
Given a lot of the hype I’ve been reading online, I went into Broken Monsters expecting to be scared. Weirdly, that didn’t happen. I kept turning pages long after I should have been asleep or getting ready for work in the morning because I thought it was good book… disturbing and a little creepy, but not scary. I probably watch too many serial killer dramas on tv. Anyway, I loved the way the city of Detroit was a character in and of itself. Given what little I know about Detroit from reading Charlie LeDuff’s book, I think it was the perfect place to set a story that is fixated on a world that is deeply broken. I also, in a twisted sort of way, particularly loved Jonno the “douchey new media journalist”, because he was just a total jackass.
Disclosure: I received a copy of The High Divide from the publisher while I was at Book Expo America. I received a copy of Broken Monsters through my work at Book Riot.