What Happened at the Lake by Phil M. Williams — A Review

What Happened at the Lake by Phil M. Williams

RaeleighReads rating: love--coffee-png-image-52236love--coffee-png-image-52236love--coffee-png-image-52236

Trigger warnings: rape, sexual violence, murder

Whew! This one had some intense moments!

The Palmer family goes on vacation in Tennessee, but not everyone who goes on that trip makes it back home. Alex Palmer and his wife Emma are the organizers of this family getaway, and they’ve invited everyone — all of Alex’s siblings, their spouses and significant others, his father and his stepmom, and his daughter and her boyfriend.

The family dynamics alone are enough to make this a good read, but Williams adds to this with some incredibly graphic and disturbing violence. In fact, that’s how the book starts. The first chapter turned my stomach, but I kept reading because I wanted to know where Williams was going with all of it.

The next 30-40% of the book was fairly boring to be honest. There was too much telling me what each character thought and did, but I’m a lover of description. This is not to say that Williams does not possess incredible powers of description. He certainly does, but he uses them for describing the brutal sexual assaults and murders that occurred on the lake the Palmer family was visiting.

When the action picks up in this novel, it nearly speeds out of control. What remains in the last quarter of the book is a father’s desperation and love for his daughter. For me, that was the most compelling part of this book — Alex Palmer’s quest to find out what happened to his daughter.

To me, Alex was the only fully realized character in this whole book. A few others — his father Harvey and brothers Matt and Jeff — were filled out to some extent, but for many of the other characters, I was left wanting more. Because I did not feel much of a connection to the large cast in this book, it dropped my rating from what would have been four coffee cups to three.

I mentioned trigger warnings of murder, sexual violence, and rape at the beginning of this post, and I want to reiterate that here. Those scenes were incredibly graphic and difficult to read at times. If you are at all turned off by those kinds of images, do not read this.

If you’re a fan of thrillers and family drama (and possess an iron stomach), this book is for you.

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Hurt People: A Novel by Cote Smith — A Review

hurt peopleHurt People: A Novel by Cote Smith

RaeleighReads rating: cup-of-coffee3cup-of-coffee3cup-of-coffee3cup-of-coffee3

Wow. This was haunting.

Well-written, atmospheric, intense — a book that will pick you up, drop you on your ass, and then reach out a hand to help you back up.

In Hurt People, the reader is thrust down into the mind, albeit the very highly functioning mind, of a young boy.

The word atmospheric seems very appropriate here — the setting is a slow, sleepy summer in Kansas, just down the road from Leavenworth Prison. But this summer is simmering with something sinister on the edges. The narrator and his brother spend their time ignoring their mother’s rules, learning pool tricks with a new friend, and watching bad horror movies with their dad, but there is so much more happening on the periphery, and we glimpse it by bits and pieces, tinged with childish imagination. The bond between the brothers is strong, but it is tested greatly when a large secret they share between them must be told.

I put this on my suspense shelf, though that isn’t quite right. There is an underlying tension, but it’s subtle — seen through the mind of our young narrator. This narrator’s mind is fascinating — equal parts razor sharp and whimsical, and Smith really captures the essence of how children think (or at least how I think they probably think).

My only complaint:

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This is a slooooow read, especially in the first half. The writing is very good though, so if you have time to spend sinking into it, it’s well worth it.

I would recommend it for people who enjoy literary fiction; slow, simmering suspense; examination of family dynamics; and the narrative perspective of highly intelligent children.

Thanks to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for my review copy.