BOOK REVIEW: ‘Route 12’ by Marietta Miles

Cover art for Route 12 by Marietta Miles
Cover Art from the Publisher’s Website

There are many reasons we go to the mountains. To be closer to nature. To escape the incessant city noise. To return to a time of simplicity and community; even if that time only ever existed in our heads.  For others however, the small towns nestled amongst dense forests and dramatic landscapes are a siren calling out to our darker nature.

In Route 12, the first of two novellas set in 1970s Southeast US, the town of Belle Gap holds no exception. Percy, free from the torturous detention centre where he spent most of his childhood, rides into town with vengeance and bloodlust in mind. Theresa, sent to live with grandparents after witnessing her mother’s suicide, struggles to readjust. Cheryl, disabled by a childhood vaccine, is labelled an outcast. Here three young lives intertwine with brutal consequences.

Drawing on themes of faith, abuse, race and misogyny, second novella Blood and Sin is another tale of 3 lives which converge one dreadful night and are irrevocably changed. Naomi is reeling from the death of her childhood rescuer. When she happens upon a young boy, neglected and hungry, her past comes rushing back with shocking results. Sherry is pregnant, a situation a young girl does not want to find herself in in 1960s North Carolina. She believes she is in the safe hands of a family friend, but her trust may cost her everything. Both will cross the path of the sinister Pastor Friend, whose hatred for women (except his mother – of course) cannot hide behind the dog collar.

What I enjoyed most about these novellas was that they felt contemporary despite being set in the 60s and 70s. Though, I don’t know if that’s a good thing that the issues of inequality and abuse still felt relevant. I was left chilled by male protagonists Percy and Pastor Friend, whose cruelty knew no bounds. Naomi in Blood and Sin proved the most compelling character for me, she was an intriguing blend of victim and unlikely criminal.

Having said that, there were times when both stories went over the top. I felt the numerous sexual assaults which took place in Route 12 were dealt with in a throwaway manner and used purely for added grit rather than added depth. Further to that, both stories were hampered by excessive description. At one point an entire pot luck menu was itemised; it made me weary and hungry.

This is a classic example of too much tell and not enough show. Everything was spoonfed to me and there was little room for me to build up my own impression of the characters. Shorter, punchier prose would have allowed for a stronger text. Nevertheless it was in keeping with the melancholic atmosphere. Lastly, Blood and Sin was let down by clichéd statements e.g. “dogs were barking” and “makes her blood boil”. It made the work seem amateur.

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