Book Review: ECHOLOCATION by Myfanwy Collins
Engine Books, March 6, 2012 ISBN 978-0-9835477-6-1
Truly great literary crime novels have the theme of family at their core. Whether the family members are related by love and blood, or created by love and necessity, family is the most basic and base social unit we humans have. Family, as we all know, can make people behave rashly or boldly or direct us to act in ways we never thought possible. What we will do to preserve family, or sometimes destroy it, has mesmerized us since the beginning. Myfanwy Collins’s ECHOLOCATION is a new classic literary crime thriller, beautifully written, seamlessly plotted, and heart-wrenching.
The novel is set in the north of New York State, in a small town in the Adirondack Mountains, 7 miles south of the Canadian border. Cheri’s mother Renee (late 30’s) gave birth at age 16, then a few years later she took off with a man on a Harley-Davidson and fled to New Smyrna, Florida. She left her daughter in the care of her much older half-sister Marie. Aunt Marie also took in Geneva, a beautiful blond girl who had been neglected by her own mother Iris, when both girls were about 4-years-old. Aunt Marie raised them as sisters, and taught them all the skills she herself had learned as a child during the Depression. Marie runs a general store and gas station. The girls are best friends, and spend a lot of time out in the woods and at a nearby quarry. When Geneva and Cheri graduated from high school, Geneva, who had grown into an even more beautiful woman, accepted a marriage proposal from Clint, a good-looking ne’er-do-well. Cheri couldn’t accept that Geneva had chosen Clint over what the two girls shared, and took off for the city. She dresses very punk, has tattoos of shackles on her wrists, and her life revolves around drinking and promiscuity.
Four years later, Aunt Marie (late 70’s) is very ill, and Geneva (22) summons Cheri (22) home. A few months later Cheri, who tends bar with her boyfriend Rick, a junkie with a criminal record, finds a reason to flee Florida. It’s as though they are summoned by echolocation, a biological system of navigation used by bats (as well as some birds and a few other mammals) which involves hearing, not seeing. These characters are listening with their hearts and with their own needs, but they all do come home. But the family reunion, which occurs just before Christmas, is not a simple or joyous occasion. People don’t change. And sometimes they bring baggage both literal and metaphorical. Sometimes they bring danger as an uninvited guest.
What ensues in ECHOLOCATION will take your breath away. Collins has crafted a real page-turner. I already have read it twice. The first time I had to know what was happening and what would happen. The second time I read it to become better acquainted with each of the characters, and to savor the singular setting, masterful plotting and exquisite prose. Collins already has been compared to Daniel Woodrell, whose “country noir” novels set in the Ozarks, are superb. However, I believe Collins clearly has earned her own rightful place in the pantheon, as the creator of “Adirondack Noir.”