There are some places that seem to be normal (whatever that means) on the surface. That appearance, though, is a thin veneer that conceals a treacherous undercurrent. Jenny Milchman has created such a place, that being Wedeskyull, New York, a small municipality in the remoteness of the Adirondack Mountains. What could possibly go wrong there? Milchman has been answering her own question, commencing with COVER OF SNOW and continuing in RUIN FALLS, which is built upon a subject that is every parent’s terror.
Liz Daniels, the mother of two small children and wife of Paul, has found her niche as an organic farmer and creating a small but growing supply company with her best friend. Her career dovetails nicely with her husband, a college professor who was advocating a return to a simpler lifestyle long before it became fashionable in some quarters. Though considered a bright and guiding light on campus, Paul remains estranged from his father, a man to whom he has not spoken in years. Liz accordingly finds it strange when Paul suggests that they take the children to visit his parents, going so far as to make an impromptu overnight stop on the way when the hour gets late. While it’s very unlike Paul to do so --- he considers chain hotels to be models of conspicuous over-consumption, don’t you know --- Liz welcomes the rare opportunity to live normally, outside of Paul’s usual rigid lifestyle rules.
"Milchman has created an interesting concept with respect to using Wedeskyull as a focal point for a number of unrelated incidents that are unsettling at best and harrowing at worst."
However, Liz’s comfort turns to horror the next morning when she discovers that her children are missing from their hotel bedroom. The police are called, and an investigation begins immediately. Then a second unexpected disappearance occurs: Paul himself slips away just as he is about to be interviewed by the police. For law enforcement, it becomes clear that this is a domestic matter, which involves the father leaving with the children. The search is canceled, and Liz’s familiar, if not entirely comfortable, life is turned upside down. She goes to Paul’s parents, who seem to know something they are not about to reveal.
Desperate and with almost nowhere to turn, Liz discovers a slim, seemingly unrelated clue pertaining to Paul’s past and his relationship (or lack thereof) with his father, who is as rigid and unbending in his way as Paul himself. Liz experiences an additional betrayal of a sort, as well as some assistance from an unexpected source, as she makes a desperate and frantic attempt to locate her children and rescue them from a situation that, however well-intended, is truly madness run amok.
Milchman has created an interesting concept with respect to using Wedeskyull as a focal point for a number of unrelated incidents that are unsettling at best and harrowing at worst. It remains to be seen if Milchman will gradually begin to connect the incidents and characters she has introduced in her novels --- those characters who make it to the end of the book, that is --- or if the town will remain a curious crossroads from which trouble arises, spreading out across several unrelated lines. Either way, Milchman and her work will be worth watching in the future, if what has gone before is any indication.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 24, 2014