It is 1925 and the New Hampshire town of Garner's economic prospects are in decline. A group of young, wealthy New Yorkers arrive for summer leisure, but when the body of a spirited, illusive girl is found in the stream this deeply private community begins to unravel.
As an opening to her first novel, Kristin Allio opts for a quietly stunning revelation, old-fashioned and filmic at once, wherein the body of young Frances Giddens is discovered by the town’s postman in a local brook ... If Garner, the town, is the soul of this mystery, then Frances is its spirit ... Generically less novel than long scrapbook-poem, this first section is a patchwork—of poetic musings, town-meeting transcripts, dream sequences, lists of native plants, local lore and aphoristic proclamations—which successfully cobbles a sense of the civil ordinances and Puritanical strictures underpinning the town’s mores ... It is rare to feel so truly transported by a work of fiction ... I dub Garner a masterly, multi-voiced, mood-altering mystery—and a debut so wise, certain, and cleverly empathetic as to seem the work of a sure-footed pro.
While Frances' death holds the narrative of the book like tentpoles on either end, the novel is as much about the town, the land and its residents as it is about the murder of young Frances, the girl with a 'silver and green laugh' ... Allio writes in short, lyrical paragraphs with a poet's ear. As the novel frequently shifts perspective, we feel like we're floating omnisciently above the New Hampshire forests, catching snatches of conversations and lives ... This is one of the few novels I've read where the 21st century becomes an unwelcome intrusion. I found myself returning again and again to the book to escape the jangle of telephones and hissing buzz of the television
He composes intricate histories of his small town—time lines, lists, aphorisms, ordinances, predictions and conversations—which form the skeleton of Allio's lyrical evocation of country life as its adherence to the past smothers its present ... Allio's finely wrought writing—Frances has 'a laugh of leaves,' while Heald's wife muses that 'the evening was what one married for'—just barely overshadows a narrative that turns suspenseful in its final third. Four main characters nurse hearts as brittle as autumn's foliage, and their hurts lead them to places as frightening as dark forests and as shocking as the cool water of a stream.