This is Meyer’s debut novel and I meant to read it before I read his second novel, The Son, which came out in 2013. Meyer says they’re the first two books in a thematic trilogy about America (though, at this point, how many people HAVEN’T written a thematic trilogy about America?), so I wanted to read them in order, but I ended up not doing that because a copy of The Son just found its way to my hands well before I had gotten this one. Well, I wish I had read them in release order because this is a much, much lesser novel than The Son. It would have been nice to go from a kind of average novel to a really good one, instead of the other way around. Anyway, this story is about half as long as The Son and quite a bit simpler; it takes place in a Pennsylvania steel town, devastated by economic recession. It’s a pretty unremittingly bleak look at the lives of several of the people in the town and the ripple effects of an act of senseless violence that happens near the beginning of the book. The story revolves around Isaac English & Billy Poe and they make a nice Of Mice & Men pairing, but their characters don’t feel entirely finished. It’s the side characters, like Isaac’s wayward sister, Lee, Billy’s burned-out mother, Grace, or the weary local cop, Harris, that really come to life. When the book works, it works really, really well; some of the chapters, which all focus on a different character, are bleak, despairing and almost exhausting. When the book doesn’t work, it isn’t exactly awful, just sketchy and kind of unmotivated; it’s a first novel, I guess. Anyway, it’s not bad. I’d still call it above average. But The Son really represents a quantum leap forward for Meyer and so I’d really just recommend that one. This one? Well, whatever. 2 ½ stars.
tl;dr – Meyer’s first novel is well-styled and many of the characters are beautifully written; others are barely sketched in and the plot is often unmotivated. 2 ½ stars.