Sugar Run (Maren)

Sugar Run 
Mesha Maren, 2019
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
320 pp.

On the far side the view was nothing but ridgelines, the craggy silhouettes rising up against the night sky like the body of some dormant god. Jodi felt her breath go tight in her chest. This road went only one way, it seemed, in under the mountains until you were circled.

In 1989, Jodi McCarty is seventeen years old when she’s sentenced to life in prison for manslaughter. She’s released eighteen years later and finds herself at a Greyhound bus stop, reeling from the shock of unexpected freedom.

Not yet able to return to her lost home in the Appalachian mountains, she heads south in search of someone she left behind, as a way of finally making amends.

There, she will meet and fall in love with Miranda, a troubled young mother living in a motel room with her children. Together they head toward what they hope will be a new home and fresh start. But what do you do with a town and a family that refuses to change?

Set within the charged insularity of rural West Virginia, Mesha Maren’s Sugar Run is a searing and gritty debut about making a run at another life, the use and treachery of makeshift families, and how no matter the distance we think we’ve traveled from the mistakes we’ve made, too often we find ourselves standing precisely in the place we began. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1984
Where—Alderson, West Virginia, USA
Awards—Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize
Education—B.A., University of North Carolina-Asheville; M.F.A. Queens University
Currently—lives in Alderson, West Virginia

Mesha Maren’s debut novel, Sugar Run, was published in 2019. Her short stories and essays have appeared in Tin House, the Oxford American, Hobart, Barcelona Review, Forty Stories: New Writing from Harper Perennial and other literary journals. S

She was chosen by Lee Smith as winner of the 2015 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and is the recipient of a 2014 Elizabeth George Foundation Grant, an Appalachian Writing Fellowship from Lincoln Memorial University, and residency fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Ucross Foundation.

She currently teaches fiction at the MFA program at West Virginia Wesleyan College and serves as a National Endowment of the Arts Writer-in-Residence at the Beckley Federal Correctional Institution. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
The literary lineages here are hard-boiled fiction and film noir, but on every page of her debut novel, Mesha Maren creates bold new takes on those venerable genres, a much needed refresh of worn tropes and cliches. Maren is masterly at describing America’s modern wastelands, the blasted towns not yet and maybe never-to-be the beneficiaries of rehabilitation and reoccupation. You can almost see Maren—like Raymond Chandler—cutting each typed page into three strips and requiring each strip to contain something delightful (startling simile, clever dialogue, brilliant description) offered to the reader as a recompense for a world that presses up against you all raw and aggressive and dangerous. A language that fully owns its power to capture just that "heart-wild magic."
Charles Frazier – New York Times Book Review

Sugar Run throttles…. The clip is fast and exciting.
Wall Street Journal

Caught in the divide between the haves and the have-nots, Jodi is a perfect illustration of the fallacy that good intentions and hard work reap success.… [S]he does the best she can, tugging her heartstrings tight around her substitute family of misfits, each one of them desperate to escape their messy past lives. But in her effort to save everyone else, she risks losing sight of herself.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Intriguing…lyrical…. Maren adroitly incorporates issues surrounding poverty in rural America into her narrative, including drug dealing and addiction; lack of jobs; fracking, which destroys communities and the land’s ecological health; and gun violence, which can change everything in a moment. Maren’s story is engaging and full of damaged and provocative characters who, like all of us, can be misled by our hearts.
Minneapolis Star-Tribune

A tense, atmospheric Southern noir spiked with queer themes, Sugar Run weaves between two timelines in its depiction of Jodi, a woman just finishing an 18-year prison sentence (The 50 Most Anticipated Books of 2019).
Entertainment Weekly

In Masha Maren's impressive debut, Jodi McCarty is released from prison after an 18-year sentence and is determined not to repeat past mistakes. While wandering around the South, she meets a young woman named Miranda, who has just left an abusive relationship. Together, they go looking for someone from Jodi's past and head to West Virginia—followed by the demons that haunt them both. This slow-burning novel asks if we can ever really escape the past and start over.

Maren’s impressive debut is replete with luminous prose that complements her cast of flawed characters.… Maren astutely captures Jodi’s desperation in trying to unite a family despite her past.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred Review) These are stories of violence and passion and squashed hope—at one point, Jodi says, "she'd laid the old pattern over her new life like the fragile tissue-paper outlines Effie had used to cut dresses"—and you will feel every word. A highly recommended debut. —Barbara Hoffert
Library Journal

Dread and a lush natural world infuse Maren's noir-tinged debut as she carefully relays soul-crushing realities and myths of poverty and privilege, luck and rehabilitation, and the human needs that can precede criminality through love-starved loner Jodi and her band of fellow hungry souls.

In Maren's darkly engrossing debut novel, two women yearning for freedom fall in love, but the secrets of the past and betrayals in the present threaten to crush them.… This impressive first novel combines beautifully crafted language and a steamy Southern noir plot to fine effect.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers Book Club Resources. They can help with discussions for any book:

1. We meet Jodi McCarthy at the beginning of Sugar Run as she is released from prison. The novel then moves back and forth between Jodi's past and the present. Talk about Paula's "presence" in the novel, and Jodi and Paula's falling out.

2. This book is very much about the impact of the past on the present, as author Mesha Maren indicated in a Durham (NC) Herald Sun interview. To what extent are any of us able to put our past behind us?

3. Follow-up to Question 2: In the Herald Sun interview, Maren said that we never "outlive" our past sins, but we can "continue to live beyond them." What do you think she means? In other words, what is the  distinction she makes between "outliving" vs. "living beyond" our past?

4. Jodi wants to return to rural West Virginia. Why is she so determined to do so? Do you think it's harder to re-invent yourself in small, rural towns?

5. What attracts Jodi to Miranda? Do you see Jodi and Miranda's relationship as a repeat of Jodi's previous relationship with Paula?

6. How does the author depict both the socio-economic and topographical terrains of her home in West Virginia?

7. Who are some of your favorite secondary characters, and why?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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