By: Tricia Dower
Stony River, New Jersey, 1955: On a sweltering June afternoon, Linda Wise and Tereza Dobra witness a disturbing scene. A pale, pretty girl who looks about their age is taken from Crazy Haggerty’s house by two uniformed policemen. Everyone in Stony River thought Crazy Haggerty lived alone. The pale, pretty girl is about to enter an alien world, and as Tereza and Linda try to make sense of what they’ve seen, they’re unaware their own lives will soon be shattered as well.
Set in a decade we tend to think of as a more innocent time, Stony River shows in dramatic and unexpected ways how perilous it was to come of age in the 1950s with its absent mothers, controlling fathers, biblical injunctions, teenaged longing, and small-town pretense. The threat of sexual violence is all around: angry fathers at home, dirty boys in the neighbourhood, strange men in strange cars, a dead girl, and another gone missing.
I received this book from a contest held by Penguin Canada some time ago which was a pleasant surprise. The premise of the novel was really interesting and reading it was quite an experience too; I had stayed up reading a good chunk of the novel last night that I started having dreams about it =P But anyways… May contain a minor spoiler(s) ahead!
It took a chapter for me to get into the story because I was orienting myself to the time period that this novel is set in. Stony River is a quiet town where everything isn’t really what it seems and where there’s certainly a lot more going on behind closed doors that the casual reader perceives of the time. It’s here where the character drama lies and the author does a wonderful job in fleshing out the details of the period, everything from the pop culture to the habits of the time and what was often left unsaid. Matters such as sexuality and the misconceptions about the opposite sex are rampant and as frustrating as it is that the parents aren’t telling these kids anything, the fact is that it wasn’t something that was discussed really.
What was really compelling about this novel are the journeys that Linda, Tereza and Miranda go on over the course of the novel. All of their families are dysfunctional in their own ways and it’s interesting to see where their stories take them especially given how distinct their personalities were. Their journeys to adulthood is peppered with their varying relationships with adults, their relationships with their parents, relationships with the opposite sex and in some circumstances some really harrowing experiences. It’s interesting how interconnected these three girls are considering that they don’t all meet until later on under some rough circumstances.
The secondary characters were also interesting, from Linda’s parents to Bill and Doris Nolan to Dearie. Although all of them are crucial to the girls’ respective stories, each of them have their own stories, opinions and ambitions in life. It’s through their interactions that you see the values and norms that were prevalent during this period. If anything, their stories intertwined with the girls’ reinforces the idea that life is messy and complicated no matter what period of history you’re looking at.
If there’s any aspect of the novel that I was a little iffy about/didn’t settle well with me from a narrative perspective, it was the mysticism around Miranda’s story. Her father James was clearly a pagan practitioner and taught Miranda his ways but the prevalence in her story afterwards and especially the clairvoyant abilities she had seemed to me a bit out of place with the rest of the story.
Overall Stony River was a fascinating read and gives a second look at the stereotypes that we’ve come to recognise about the 1950s. The character drama and interaction were interesting and gives the reader a lot to think about not only about the time period but about the way we interact with our families and with other people. It may not be for everyone–the plot may seem like it moves rather slowly to some people but I thought it was just right but this type of story–but I highly recommend this novel if you’re looking for a good historical fiction or just a good drama.