The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book may be the perfect example of a character driven crime story.
In 1986 two major crimes occur in Oklahoma City. A robbery of a movie theater turns into a massacre. A beautiful teenager goes missing while attending a fair. Both events are major news, but as with most things time passes and eventually they’re forgotten. But not by Wyatt and Julianna.
Wyatt was the sole survivor of the movie theater staff, and 25 years later he’s changed his name and moved to Las Vegas where he’s a private investigator doing background checks for casinos.
When a major client ask him to go to Oklahoma City for a case Wyatt is reluctant to revisit his old hometown, but soon finds himself caught up in the memories of that fateful summer. Julianna is still obsessed with learning what happened to her sister, and she desperately latches on to any slim clue that might offer her answers.
This book is a little bit tricky in that its style and tone at first read like a PI novel with Wyatt being a cheerful guy whose style comes across as smart ass even when he doesn’t mean to. His investigation into the harassment of a woman who inherited a bar at first seems like a major plot that you assume will somehow eventually intersect with his and Julianna’s story somehow.
What you eventually realize is that what’s really important here are the parallel stories of Wyatt and Julianna’s trying to deal with the aftermath of what they went through. They took completely different approaches. Wyatt fled his old hometown and has done everything he can not to think about it, but as he revisits his old haunts in OKC the old survivor’s guilt and questions begin to bubble up. Julianna has actively been looking for the truth for over two decades, and her behavior has become obsessive and self-destructive. Even though they’ve taken different paths in dealing with their pain what becomes clear over the course of the story is that the unanswered questions have haunted them all along.
The book didn’t go where I expected at all, and if you’re looking for some kind of thriller where it all dovetails together nicely, you’d probably be disappointed. Instead what we get is a more realistic thing where the two stories intersect in the small random ways that would happen in a small city. Some mysteries are solved, some aren’t, and some new ones arise. The real question here isn’t whether Wyatt and Julianna will ever know exactly what happened and why, it’s if they can ever get over the guilt and grief to get on with their lives.
Also, as a lifelong resident of the Midwest it’s also nice to get a work of fiction that portrays characters from somewhere other than New York or Los Angeles as real people rather than just stereotypical jokes or rubes in flyover country.
Great read, and I’m happy to hear that Lou Berney has a new book coming out this fall. I’ll definitely be checking it out.
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