Weight of Blood (McHugh)

The Weight of Blood 
Laura McHugh, 2014
Random House
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780812995206

A gripping, suspenseful novel about two mysterious disappearances a generation apart.
The town of Henbane sits deep in the Ozark Mountains. Folks there still whisper about Lucy Dane’s mother, a bewitching stranger who appeared long enough to marry Carl Dane and then vanished when Lucy was just a child. Now on the brink of adulthood, Lucy experiences another loss when her friend Cheri disappears and is then found murdered, her body placed on display for all to see. Lucy’s family has deep roots in the Ozarks, part of a community that is fiercely protective of its own.

Yet despite her close ties to the land, and despite her family’s influence, Lucy—darkly beautiful as her mother was—is always thought of by those around her as her mother’s daughter. When Cheri disappears, Lucy is haunted by the two lost girls—the mother she never knew and the friend she couldn’t save—and sets out with the help of a local boy, Daniel, to uncover the mystery behind Cheri’s death.
What Lucy discovers is a secret that pervades the secluded Missouri hills, and beyond that horrific revelation is a more personal one concerning what happened to her mother more than a decade earlier.
The Weight of Blood is an urgent look at the dark side of a bucolic landscape beyond the arm of the law, where a person can easily disappear without a trace. Laura McHugh proves herself a masterly storyteller who has created a harsh and tangled terrain as alive and unforgettable as the characters who inhabit it. Her mesmerizing debut is a compelling exploration of the meaning of family: the sacrifices we make, the secrets we keep, and the lengths to which we will go to protect the ones we love. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1974-75
Where—Iowa, USA
Raised—Tecumseh, Missouri
Education—B.A., Truman State University; B.A., M.S.,
   University of Missouri-Columbia
Currently—lives in Columbia, Missouri

Laura McHugh was born in Iowa and moved at the age of seven to Tecumseh, Missouri, in the Ozarks. As a child, she loved writing stories and dreamed of becoming a writer. But after graduating from Truman State University in 1996 with a degree in English with an emphasis on creative writing, she realized she needed more stable work than writing would provide.

Laura returned to school, this time earning a Master's in Information Science and Learning Technologies. A year later, she earned a second Bachelor's in Computer Science. She worked as a software developed until she was laid off in 2009 during the economic recession.

By then Laura was the mother of two school-aged girls. With encouragement from her husband, she decided to begin writing again, working each day after she dropped the girls off at school and at night after they went to bed.

Laura lives with her family in Columbia, Missouri. The Weight of Blood is her first novel. (Adapted from Jefferson City News Tribune.)

Book Reviews
In this clever, multilayered debut, McHugh deftly explores the past of an Ozark Mountain family...with plenty to hide and the ruthlessness to keep their secrets hidden.... This is an outstanding first novel, replete with suspense, crisp dialogue, and vivid Ozarks color and atmosphere
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) Debut novelist McHugh comes out swinging with this gripping tale set in the Ozarks of Missouri.... Her prose will not only keep readers turning the pages but also paints a real and believable portrait of the connections, alliances, and sacrifices that underpin rural, small-town life in Henbane. —Amy Hoseth, Colorado State Univ. Lib., Fort Collins
Library Journal

McHugh sets her first novel in a starkly rendered fictional Missouri town located in the Ozarks.... [A] suspenseful novel, with a barn burner of a plot...[and] despite some missteps, McHugh shows herself to be a compelling writer intimately familiar with rural poverty and small-town weirdness; the best is yet to come. —Joanne Wilkinson

A teenager investigates a friend's murder and learns much more than she bargained for.... McHugh's evocation of the rugged setting and local speech patterns starkly reveals the menace lurking beneath Henbane's folksy facade.... An accomplished literary thriller.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. The novel alternates between narrators, giving us many of the characters’ perspectives but mostly going back and forth between Lila and Lucy. Did you find this multiple-voice narrative effective? Could the story have been told successfully in one voice?

2. How do you interpret the relationship between Crete and Carl? Carl consistently turns a blind eye toward Crete’s questionable behavior. Do you think this is a weakness of Carl’s character, or do you believe that Carl is rightly loyal to his brother? If you were Carl, how would you have handled your relationship with Crete?

3. Lucy carries around Cheri’s necklace throughout the novel, a broken blue butterfly, until she leaves it with the flowers in the cave. Discuss the significance of the necklace.

4. The novel is set deep in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri. Describing the valley where her family first settled, Lucy tells us, “What was left of the homestead now was a cluster of tin-roofed out-buildings in various states of decomposition, a collapsed barn, a root cellar with its crumbled steps leading into the earth, and the stone foundation and chimneys of the main house. Walnut trees had sprouted in the spaces between the buildings.” Discuss the role the setting plays in the novel.

5. Both Lila and Cheri were treated poorly by the people of Henbane. Did they have similar qualities that made them easy targets? Discuss how superstitions played a role in this.

6. Why do you think the town turned a blind eye to Crete's behavior and illegal activities?

7. What do you think about Ransome? Do you agree with her actions? Do you think she could have done more to help Lila?

8. Discuss the book’s title, The Weight of Blood. Ultimately, what does the novel have to say about “blood,” and the meaning of family? Did your interpretation of the title evolve from the beginning to the end of the novel?  If so, how?

9. The Weight of Blood ends with Lucy and Daniel together on a blanket, lost in their own world. Lucy tells us, “I let myself get lost in the moment, looking neither forward nor back, seeking nothing absent but embracing what was right in front of me.” How does this ending resonate with the rest of the story, and the struggles Lucy has had to face?

10. At the end of the novel Lucy says that she is “done waiting for ghosts.” Do you think she will be able to walk away from her “ghosts” forever? Discuss whether or not you think it’s possible to truly put away the past.
(Questions from the author's website.)

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