Book Review : Marietta Miles - Route 12 (2016)
One of the best things that can happen to you as a reader is being surprised by a book from a press you thought you could more or less predict. That's precisely what happened to me with Marietta Miles' Route 12, published by All Due Respect, purveyors of fast, dirty noir. While I love the fast-paced, hard-hitting, violent tales usually offered by ADR, Route 12 is a different animal that inhabits a space all its own in the press' catalog. For starters, this book was the first one in which editing was almost impeccable. Also, there is an elegance and poetry to Miles' prose that I hadn't found in any previous ADR title, and I've read a lot of them.
Route 12 is actually two novellas in one book. The first one, which shares the book's title, is a narrative pregnant with evil and the promise of bad things in which three lives clash together. Percy, who is getting his first taste of freedom after spending most of his childhood locked up in an institution, heads to the town of Belle Gap with vengeance in his blood and a thirst for violence. In town, are two young women, Theresa, who currently lives with her grandparents after witnessing her mother’s suicide, and Cheryl, a new friend of Theresa who became disabled by a vaccine at a young age and who rarely interacts with others due to her condition. There are dirty things in Percy's mind, and the young girls are no match for his deceitful, conniving ways and lack of a moral compass. What follows is a tense, desperately dark narrative about loss, dreams, loneliness, and abuse that lead to an inevitable and heartbreaking finale.
The second novella, which is slightly shorter than Route 12, is an amalgamation of misogyny and racial tensions titled Blood and Sin. At the center of it are two women, Naomi and Sherry, and a man, Pastor Friend. The two women have suffered greatly, and Pastor Friend's name is a misnomer. Between the Pastor's hatred of women and Sherry's unwanted pregnancy in a small town in a decade where that was still one of the worst things that could happen to women, what Miles achieved with this one is something akin to an ugly yet high quality photograph of a time in which small mistakes were unpardonable in small town America. Sprinkled with a bit of hate and some healthy doses of racism, this one is as great as the first novella and proves, just like Route 12, that Miles shines when dealing with darkness.
As mentioned above, what surprised me most about this book was the writing itself. Miles has a knack for dialogue, which is something she shares with other ADR authors, but her descriptions are unique and she has a way of presenting space and situation that borders on literary fiction. Both novellas are short, but they give a glimpse of an entire town, a group of people, and the larger ideologies being juggled in their respective decades. Furthermore, while both novellas are easily categorized as noir, they earn a place under that banner based on much more than bad men and awful intentions; they deserve to be called that because, like some of the best work in the genre, the stories cut to the reader's bone and fill the wound with an unrelenting sense of danger and discomfort.
I had never read Miles' work before, but these two tastes of what she can accomplish quickly added her name to the list of authors whose work I'll be on the lookout for from now on. You should probably do the same.