Tracing a legacy of hate in America would seem a daunting task for any writer, but Lori Roy makes it look effortless in her new novel, Gone Too Long. Instead of attempting to address this in an epic way, Lori Roy distills her examination down to one family – The Coulters – and their surrounding community, thereby making the all-encompassing history intimately personal.
Arguably, Gone Too Long is the story of Imogene Coulter, a woman who has spent her life trying to escape the clutches of the specter that infects her family: the Ku Klux Klan; but it is also the story of Beth, a ten-year-old girl who, through no fault of her own, finds herself trapped – imprisoned – in the basement of the Coulter patriarch’s hideaway. It is these two women who will expose the insidious nature of hatred that taints the Coulter bloodline.
The Knights of the Southern Georgia Order have long been led by a member of the Coulter family, but when Imogene’s father dies, that control is threatened when another member of the Klan vies for power. Since the group’s sole purpose is hate and violence, this type of instability certainly poses a dangerous risk to everyone in the vicinity.
On the day of her father’s funeral, Imogene’s mother tells her she discovered an electrical wire leading to a rarely used building on the property. Going to investigate, Imogene is stunned by what she finds behind that basement door – a door that is secured with no less than three locks, leading to a darkness silhouetted by a single bare bulb.
Seven years earlier, Julie Anna was babysitting Beth when a strange man broke in, hell-bent on a violent mission. When the dust settles, Beth finds herself unsure of where she is and held captive – receiving “visits” a few times each week. As years pass, this becomes the norm for Beth, until one day maybe there is a light at the end of that tunnel.
At every turn in this engrossing novel, Lori Roy defies expectations. Readers will go in expecting one type of story, but what is presented will not be that. In an effort to remain spoiler-free, nothing more can really be said about the plot. However, it is clear that Imogene and Beth are characters that will live in the reader’s minds for a very long time. They epitomize humanity, in all of its flawed but hopeful gloriousness, in a way that makes the reader want to be a better person.
Lori Roy is a two-time Edgar Award-winning author – the only woman (to date) who has won both the Best First Novel and Best Novel categories – so there is no question that she can write. Her style is lyrical yet realistic, at times bordering on gritty, but never calling attention to itself and always in place to serve the narrative. Whereas some authors would have used the touchstones of the Ku Klux Klan timeline as moments to pass judgment, Lori Roy keeps those “chapters” journalistic in nature, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions and reflect on how that history impacts the story of Imogene and Beth.
Gone Too Long is a novel about the lasting legacy of hate, the ripples created in a pond, echoing far into the distance, and how one person can break that chain changing lives in the process – both in the fictional world and in the world of the reader.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.