Carrie La Seur makes her remarkable debut with The Home Place, a mesmerizing, emotionally evocative, and atmospheric literary novel in the vein of The House Girl and A Land More Kind Than Home, in which a successful lawyer is pulled back into her troubled family’s life in rural Montana in the wake of her sister’s death.
The only Terrebonne who made it out, Alma thought she was done with Montana, with its bleak winters and stifling ways. But an unexpected call from the local police takes the successful lawyer back to her provincial hometown and pulls her into the family trouble she thought she’d left far behind: Her lying, party-loving sister, Vicky, is dead. Alma is told that a very drunk Vicky had wandered away from a party and died of exposure after a night in the brutal cold. But when Alma returns home to bury Vicky and see to her orphaned niece, she discovers that the death may not have been an accident.
The Home Place is a story of secrets that will not lie still, human bonds that will not break, and crippling memories that will not be silenced. It is a story of rural towns and runaways, of tensions corporate and racial, of childhood trauma and adolescent betrayal, and of the guilt that even forgiveness cannot ease. Most of all, this is a story of the place we carry in us always: home.
The First Paragraphs:
“The cold on a January night in Billings, Montana, is personal and spiritual. It knows your weaknesses. It communicates with your fears. If you have a god, this cold pulls a veil between you and your deity. It gets you alone in a place where it can work at you. If you are white, especially from the old families, the cold speaks to you of being isolated and undefended on the infinite homestead plains. It sound like wolves and reverberates like drums in all the hollow places where you wonder who you are and what you would do in extremis. In this cold, you understand at last that you are not brave at all.
If you’re Indian–a Crow or Cheyenne off the res maybe, a Shoshone, Hidatsa, Assiniboine, one of the humbled peoples of an unforgiving land–the cold will sound different, but still, it knows your name. It has no mercy for you no matter how long and intimate its relationship with your mothers and fathers. You of all people ought to know that it is a killer. How many of your relatives has it taken? More than wars and car crashes? Do your fingers and toes tingle in the cold because of some childhood frostbite, before you learned to cover up, or when the power company turned off the juice and your little back got pushed up hard against the cold rock of winter?”
Why I loved it:
For me everything about this book came down to sisters. I have three of them, you see. And one of them could be the blueprint for Alma’s younger, troubled, tragic sister Vicky. It’s a wondrous and terrible thing to love someone you can’t control. Especially when that someone is determined to burn through life at their own pace and on their own terms. So reading this novel was visceral for me. I understood why Alma wanted to leave her old life behind (I did the same thing after all) and I also understood how easily and completely she could be pulled back into it (this is a recurring theme in my own life).
THE HOME PLACE is written with the sharp, clean prose of a literary heavyweight and paced with compelling must-know-more suspense. It is exactly the sort of novel I adore. Smart. Searing. Redemptive. I read this novel quickly (that’s always my litmus test) and thought about the characters when I wasn’t with them. I loved the contemplation of home: why we leave it, why we yearn for it, and why, ultimately, we always return. And try as I might, I was not able to solve the mystery of Vicky’s death in advance. A truly well done mystery.
It’s been a long time since I found myself missing the jagged peaks and sagebrush mesas of my own home. But after reading this novel I found myself wrestling with the sudden urge to return to New Mexico, a place not so very different than the Billings, Montana of Carrie La Seur’s beautiful debut novel.