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 ... In searching for answers to those questions, resolutions to those conflicts, the book’s conclusion perhaps misses an opportunity when it veers toward action and violence and away from one of its greatest strengths — its clear focus on character and place. But that doesn’t diminish the cumulative effect of the graceful prose, which reaches back in the best way to its noir predecessors. 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 recompense for a world that presses up against you all raw and aggressive and dangerous.
Mesha Maren’s intriguing debut novel revolves around secrets: those we keep, those kept from us, and the pain and dangerous consequences that sometimes result when they are revealed ... 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 ... This narrative style is slightly troublesome, as there are inevitable references to past events in the present chapters. This leads to occasional murky moments for readers. Also, a minor flaw in the tale is Jodi’s preoccupation with guns, which seems counterintuitive to her oft demonstrated compassion and love for others. In the end, Maren’s story is engaging and full of damaged and provocative characters who, like all of us, can be misled by our hearts.
Sugar Run throttles along from mishap to mishap like a vehicle with a busted navigation system. The clip is fast and exciting, but it’s hard to figure out whether Jodi’s driving the story or is merely a passenger in it. Ms. Maren links her symbolically to the Georgia hills, depicted as both the defenseless victim of rapacious industrialists and, in the Southern Gothic tradition, a ghostly source of wickedness. The attributes of innocence and guilt cancel each other out, making Jodi something of a cipher. If time repeats itself then she—and the reader—seems doomed to rush ahead not knowing what she wants or why she’s doing what she does.
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.
Sugar Run gains its strength from Maren's uncompromising storytelling and her insistence on showing even the most painful realities ... Maren seamlessly moves Sugar Run from 1988 as she describes the deteriorating romance between Jodi and Paula and the present as the newly released Jodi, who always considered herself a victim and is now desperately trying to make better choices with her life and her heart.
Plumbs the human dimensions of the economic and opioid addiction crises of rural West Virginia with the kind of attentiveness and sensitivity that invites favorable comparison with the work of writers like Chris Offutt and Tony Earley ... Though Maren takes her time finding the rhythm of her story, she moves swiftly once she does ... In prose that consistently evokes the stark contrast between the beauty of the West Virginia landscape and the desperation of her characters' lives, Maren ponders the interplay between the hands dealt in life and the choices made when playing them. Sugar Run is a bleak novel, but one to be admired for its refusal to trade honesty for false hope.
Darkly engrossing ... Maren draws the reader into a world of shifting allegiances, small-town bigotry, draining poverty, pervasive substance abuse, and secrets as destructive as the blasts used in fracking on the property down the road from the farm. The author skillfully handles a dual plot, alternating chapters set in the near-present and 20 years before. The novel’s noir tone and taut suspense are enriched by Maren’s often lovely prose, especially in descriptions of the natural world, and sharp observations ... This impressive first novel combines beautifully crafted language and a steamy Southern noir plot to fine effect.