Mesha Maren’s “Sugar Run” is a grit-lit novel that follows Jody McCarty, an ex-convict trying to reestablish her life and her love interest, Miranda.
Jody, freshly released early from her life sentence in a Georgia prison, is stationed in Georgia, looking for the brother of her ex-lover, Ricky. While there, she meets Miranda at a roadside motel where Miranda has been living. Miranda is currently in a custody battle with her singer ex-husband over their three kids.
Jody, along with Ricky, Miranda and her three kids, sets to return to Jody’s hometown of Redder, West Virginia, to establish a life on their own.
The novel follows two timelines; after Judy gets out of prison in 2007 and before Judy goes to jail in 1988.
In the present of the novel, Judy is dealing with the repercussions of her past and moves on to establish her normal life back in West Virginia. It gives insight into Miranda’s custody battle, Ricky’s abusive family and mentality, as well as Judy’s family drama that continues on.
In 1988, the novel follows the story that will eventually lead to Jody finding herself in prison. She bonds with a woman, Paula, and begins her life on the road with her. Paula, who spends all her time gambling, asks Judy to help her rescue her brother from their abusive family.
Maren’s storytelling style is starkly unique. She creates a dynamic between the past and present that reveals just enough to keep you invested in the story. The chapters set in the past serve as exposition for Maren’s novel.
Personally, I enjoyed the style, but it did have potential to deflate the tension. Switching between the past and present brought about some confusion at first, but after it was established, it helped develop the characters.
Some of Maren’s characters appear flat, but they are given some fleshed-out backstory. Little development is offered to characters that aren’t Jody and Paula. Miranda’s storyline seems choppy and sporadic, but it fits her characterization.
I loved the concept of the story: a rural lesbian love story about some women living in Appalachia and dealing with what life throws you here. Jody conceptualizes the stupidity that accompanies falling in love for the first time and how it can lead you to do crazy things. Maren painted life in Appalachia just as it is, all the way down to the drugs in the shed.
It makes for a tense read, but a good one. After the plot quickens and the two timelines begin to work together, it becomes an enjoyable read.