Throwback Thursday this week features an audiobook I enjoyed very much. Bitter Sun by Beth Lewis was released on Audible in 2018 and published by HarperCollins
Set in Larson, a small town in the middle of America’s corn belt, full of seemingly good people and where everything seems perfect on the surface. But secrets and lies abound and the underlying darkness is about to emerge. The story is character driven and told from the perspective of John (Johnny) Royal, a thirteen year old living with his mother and younger sister, Jenny, on a small farm a mile outside of town.
It was during the heat wave summer of 1971 that everything changed. Let out of school early, John, Jenny and their two best friends Gloria and Rudy went to their special place, a shack they’d built in the Roost—a wooded valley with a river running through it. That’s when they discovered the body.
The story spans the years 1971-1973. Things begin to change in Larson during the Vietnam war as the physically and mentally injured soldiers return. Added to this, the combination of persistent heatwaves and lack of rain destroys the crops, threatening financial ruin. Then the body is discovered. The four friends can’t understand why the authorities aren’t doing more to solve what is obviously a murder. They decide to try and find out who she was and why she was killed. They have no idea what the devastating and menacing consequences of their actions will be.
The four of them have differing home lives. John is conflicted, feeling he’s being forced to choose between the mother he loves regardless of the fact she’s drunk, neglectful and mean a lot of the time, and his sister who he is very close to. She fears their mother and what she might do. Gloria’s parents are well to do and she has access to many more material things than the others. Rudy suffers at the hands of his violently abusive father and brother, staying out of their way as much as possible. Each character is well defined but it’s John who is really at the heart of the story. He tries his best to look after his sister and make the right choices as things begin to fall apart, however he’s completely unprepared and unable to handle the situation.
Beth Lewis evokes the setting and time period very effectively. It’s a dark and disturbing tale, evocative and tragic, with shocking twists set in the tense, claustrophobic confines of a small rural town where people know more than they’re willing to admit, and underscored with corruption and immorality. The bleak atmosphere and decline is easily imagined. The only thing I would say is that at 14 plus hours it’s quite long and could perhaps have been condensed here and there to pick up the pace. The development of the plot is a slow burn, losing some of the momentum at times. Having said that though, I was invested in the story and couldn’t imagine where it was leading.
Christopher Ragland’s narration is excellent. He has a pleasant voice, the performance is delivered with an authentic southern accent. He gives John’s personality the required intensity, while differentiating well between each character, whether male and female.
It all started when we found the body.
Then nothing was ever the same.
The Dry meets Stand by Me and True Detective in this stunningly written tale of the darkness at the heart of a small Midwestern town and the four kids who uncover it.
In the heat-wave summer of 1971, four kids find a body by a lake and set out to solve a murder. But they dig too deep and ask too many questions.
Larson is a town reeling in the wake of the Vietnam draft, where the unrelenting heat ruins the harvest and the people teeter on the edge of ruin.
As tension and paranoia run rife, rumours become fact, violence becomes reflex. The unrest allows the dark elements of the close-knit farming community to rise and take control.
And John, Jenny, Gloria and Rudy are about to discover that sometimes secrets are best left uncovered….