Book review: 'Until She Comes Home' tells tale of secrets, tragedy

BOOK REVIEW

SUN SENTINELJune 16, 2013 

  • 'UNTIL SHE COMES HOME' by Lori Roy; Dutton ($26.95)

Lori Roy mixes lyrical prose, a noir approach and gothic undertones in her second novel, an urban story set in 1958 about a community pulled apart by racism, fear and image.

Detroit's Adler Avenue is the kind of neighborhood where a woman makes a roast beef dinner twice a month for the widower down the street; where a mentally challenged woman can wander uninvited into a family's unlocked home; where bake sales and luncheons showcase one's social hierarchy. It's also a place where domestic violence hides behind front doors; where couples grow apart because they refuse to communicate; where the death of an infant devalues a woman. And it is a place of fear - fear of the nearby, but unseen, apartment complex where black families live; fear of the broken glass that shows up nightly in the alleys behind the houses; and fear that a failure to keep up appearances leads to gossip.

Henry David Thoreau's quote about lives of quiet desperation was never truer than of the lives lived on this Detroit street. The residents' panic about civil rights advancement has more to do with their inadequacies, lack of self-awareness and dread of the unknown, much like the characters in the classic "Twilight Zone" episode "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street."

A black woman's murder near the tool and die factory where all their husbands work causes each woman on Adler Street to worry. Then, mentally challenged Elizabeth Symanski disappears when walking to her home after leaving the house of Grace Richardson. Julia Wagner, Grace's best friend, watched while Elizabeth opened the gate outside her house. But Elizabeth never made it into her house. Her disappearance galvanizes the neighborhood with the men scouring the area while the women make meals and coffee. Everyone is sure that someone from that apartment complex is to blame. In addition to bringing out their racial bigotry, the jealousies and angst that have been simmering rise to the surface. Grace is pregnant. Julia cannot get over the death of her infant daughter. Across the street, Malina Herze judges each neighbor's movements, rules the bake sales with a strong hand and worries that her husband's late arrival from work will spark gossip.

"Until She Comes Home" unfolds at a leisurely pace as Roy's psychological study of the neighborhood unfurls. It's a quiet mystery that doesn't rely on car chases or gun battles so that when violence does erupt in one home the impact is even greater.

Roy, who lives near St. Petersburg, Fla., showed herself to be a talent to watch with 2011's "Bent Road." "Until She Comes Home" again proves her versatility as a novelist.

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