By: Brandon Hobson
In the fifteen years since their teenage son, Ray-Ray, was killed in a police shooting, the Echota family has been suspended in private grief. The mother, Maria, increasingly struggles to manage the onset of Alzheimer’s in her husband, Ernest. Their adult daughter, Sonja, leads a life of solitude, punctuated only by spells of dizzying romantic obsession. And their son, Edgar, fled home long ago, turning to drugs to mute his feelings of alienation.
With the family’s annual bonfire approaching—an occasion marking both the Cherokee National Holiday and Ray-Ray’s death, and a rare moment in which they openly talk about his memory—Maria attempts to call the family together from their physical and emotional distances once more. But as the bonfire draws near, each of them feels a strange blurring of the boundary between normal life and the spirit world. Maria and Ernest take in a foster child who seems to almost miraculously keep Ernest’s mental fog at bay. Sonja becomes dangerously fixated on a man named Vin, despite—or perhaps because of—his ties to tragedy in her lifetime and lifetimes before. And in the wake of a suicide attempt, Edgar finds himself in the mysterious Darkening Land: a place between the living and the dead, where old atrocities echo.
If you go on Goodreads to pull the synopsis of The Removed, you will find that it’s identical to the one above. I create most of my descriptions personally because I believe many publishing houses write cover copy to sell narratives they can’t deliver. They will make the books sound more interesting or engaging than it really is because at the end of the day they are tyring to sell something. I know that’s a cynical view, but I majored in marketing and interned at a publishing house where I wrote press releases. I understand the ploy better than most. Some get the descriptions quite close to how the book presents the information and those I will tweak instead of completely rewriting. All of us have been a victim of marketing employees misguiding readers.
The above synopsis is accurate until the final two sentences about Sonja and Edgar. Especially Edgar’s part. Sonja does become unhealthily obsessed with a man named Vin but the reveal about his connection to her life doesn’t come until her final POV chapter. It’s presented as a reveal and meant to be shocking but it’s more confusing than anything. We don’t learn whether she’s known certain facts the whole time or if she’s had some kind of epiphany, so that made the whole sequence very frustrating. There’s also a logical inconsistency about when Vin learns her real name that you will have to discover for yourself if you are interested in reading this book.
For Edgar, the description states that he attempts suicide however that is never described. I can see where someone might think he tried to take his own life, but I felt his actions in the story were coming from his use of drugs rather than him trying to kill himself. For example there is a scene in a bathroom where he dunks his head underwater and the drugs make him so sluggish that he has a hard time getting back out. He does struggle to emerge however and ends up being okay. That’s the only scene that can be interpreted as a suicide attempt, but I don’t think he was trying to drown himself. Later, he winds up in the Darkening Land on accident when he takes a bus ride and is effectively transported into another dimension that is connected but separate from our world. I would explain that journey as him learning to come to terms with his drug abuse not him figuring out if life is worth living. When he admits that he has a problem, then he can return home but not before.
The moral was difficult to pinpoint because it seems like the story is coming from too many directions. I believe the main premise is about the necessity of finding closure and confronting painful truths. When we let things fester, those burdens can follow us for the rest of our lives. Only through forgiveness and expressing our anger can we find peace. A generic moral in my opinion.
I enjoy that each character perspective is written in first person, so they all have unique voices. Their experiences are separate as each of them deal with their own trial and grief over Ray-Ray. Maria was the most enjoyable character to me because she was the least destructive and a positive motherly figure. Tsala’s POV was confusing because we don’t learn who he is or his real purpose to the story until late into the narrative. I feel like I would need to go back and reread the story to get the full effect of his perspective now, but I don’t really want to.
That’s probably the saddest part of this review. I usually really enjoy weird stories with magical realism that blur the lines between fact and fiction. Are the characters going crazy or is something mystical actually happening? Those questions are intriguing to answer, but I felt the ways in which those elements were executed were lacking. The narrative threads were disjointed, and I wish there had been more of a flow than I felt there was.
Overall rating: 3