Sunday, September 21, 2014

Not flashy or world shaking, THE HOME PLACE is moving, a kind of literary truism that holds up--because it is true..

THE HOME PLACE by Carrie La Seur (William Morrow, August) is a book you can depend on. It's not flashy or world shaking, but it's moving, a kind of literary truism that holds up. As opposed to cliches, which have lost their meaning, truisms are repeated because they are...true. THE HOME PLACE tells the story of a high-flying lawyer, Alma Terrebonne, who escaped the debilitating weather, poverty and in-bred habits of her Montana town. Alma's the only one, in seven generations, to get out.

As the story opens, she's happy with her life in Seattle. In peak shape, she enjoys bicycling uphill to work. Alma's got the smarts and unyielding "killer" instincts that make her invaluable to the sexist fools in her firm. She's poised for triumph, depending on how she plays it, and then there's her charming investment banker boyfriend and their co-op with the incredible views. Her life's on target, when she receives a call from the police that her young sister,Vicky, is dead and there's a child, her niece, alone and grieving.

At once, there's a measure of all that she escaped, the weather that ostensibly killed her sister, and the hopeless drug culture of her town. She could have been Vicky, they looked enough alike. But there was the ten year separation in their ages. After her parents died in a car accident and Alma went off to college, Vicky had to live with their scary violent older brother and his strange religious wife. Vicky went from bad to worse. Everyone in their town seemed to think it was somehow inevitable a young woman, not yet in her 30's, froze to death one night, her body not found until the next morning.

Alma identifies the body and comforts her traumatized eleven year old niece, who called relatives when  her drunk mother walked out. Why did no one come?  Alma is drawn into a mystery that's as deep as her French Canadian roots, as fierce as the frontier that exacted a tough price from her family but gave them a sky and land so beautiful they built a homestead. Now Alma's family lived in town but her grandma still owned the place.

In Montana, Alma realizes she's been measuring temperate Seattle against it for years--feeling unsettled in some part of herself. IN THE HOME PLACE, her search for the real cause of her sister's death is also a search for herself. The values she has cherished, her independence, financial security and the comfortable familiarity of her Canadian boyfriend, seem superficial--unreal-- when she goes home. In this debut novel, the pull of home looks less like failure than recovery.

After Alma uncovers her sister's fate, rooted in the family's twisted past, she begins to see what's strong and meaningful about her heritage. This is a novel, where substantial means different things. What is career and money, a convenient boyfriend, real estate, when she's divorced from the purpose of her pioneering grandmother? Alma's people are able to weather the worst and take comfort from the earth. The homestead was built to endure.
Coming home is a new start for Alma and her niece.

But it takes all Alma's Terrebonne's backbone to get there. I loved this murder mystery that hinges on the maturity of the heroine. The personal meanings of home, a ranch that's become a meth lab, is returned to its pioneer purpose. Working the place also means defending it from the bullying of the fraking industry. Alma must look ahead to the future to preserve her heritage.

This is a wonderful modern western. I'd like to see a strong actress play Alma's role in a movie. This woman's not imitating the men or trying to fulfill their expectations. Instead, she's trying to figure out the terms of her own existence. There is a love interest, but he's not so intrinsic to what happens. Great read.