Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The Distant Dead by Heather Young

First Line: The boy shouldn't have been in the cave.

A small Nevada town is stunned when a young boy stumbles into a fire station to report finding a burned body out in the desert. When the body is identified as local math teacher Adam Merkel, his colleague is left searching for answers.

I always classify the books I review because I realize that people like to know what genre the book belongs to. I call The Distant Dead a "literary mystery" for the simple reason that it transcends the genre.

There are two main voices in this story: a middle school social studies teacher named Nora Wheaton, and Sal Prentiss, the lonely boy who found Adam Merkel's body as he was walking through the desert to the school bus stop. As we slowly begin to learn what really happened to Merkel, one thing becomes crystal clear: author Heather Young has created some rare and brilliant character studies. Why are they rare? Because they have you feel empathy for all the characters-- even the ones you don't like.

There's a reason why this small Nevada town is called Lovelock ("Lock your love in Lovelock!" as the billboard proclaims): all the people we come to know are locked in the town because of love, and that's not necessarily a good thing. Of them all, Nora Wheaton resonated the most with me, probably because we both have wanderlust and know what it's like to feel trapped: "...but when she saw the WELCOME TO IDAHO sign something inside her opened. She loved that they would go somewhere else the next summer, and the summer after that, every trip widening the world a little more."

The Distant Dead is a compelling mystery-- I had to know what really happened to Adam Merkel and what would happen to Nora and the young boy Sal-- but it's such a sad tale that I had to read it a bit at a time, letting one section be absorbed into my system before continuing to the next. But although my pace was slow, it was sure. This is a story that stuck with me even when I wasn't reading it. I kept finding myself thinking about the characters Young created, and I always returned to the book with the hope that, somehow, someway, things would go right. I highly recommend this sad, extraordinary tale.


The Distant Dead by Heather Young
ISBN: 9780062690814
William Morrow © 2020
Hardcover, 352 pages

Literary Mystery, Standalone
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.


8 comments:

  1. I already have this one on my list, so I'm glad to see such a positive review. I'm going to 'save' it to see if my book club will want to discuss it.

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    1. I can see this book making a good "discussion" book, Kate.

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  2. This looked compelling until I saw the "sad" aspect of it. I need fun and wit right now. If it ended on a happier or neutral note, I could read it.

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    1. It does end on a happier note. You won't be turning cartwheels or anything, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Still, I'd wait until you're more in the mood for a somewhat depressing read.

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  3. After I can walk outside and go around my neighborhood, see friends, when this virus stops invading this country and my city.

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  4. People are so unaware of not only masks, but distancing. So many people walked too close to me and I only went out for a short time and walked 3 blocks round-trip. Just unconscious. And I won't be that woman yelling at people.
    My friend, the one reading Doestoevski now (see prior post) says do not go out at all.

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    1. I agree with her. Fortunately, I am in a position where I can do so. Unfortunately, Denis isn't.

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