I loved Cory Anderson’s, What Beauty There Is, a young adult/adult crossover thriller about Jack Morton, a 17-year old in a remote area of Idaho, who discovers his mother’s suicide, only fifteen dollars in the kitty, and the likelihood of his younger brother going into foster care unless he comes up with a way to support him.
After dealing with the body, Jack’s first instinct is to get a job – and fast, too, before all the money runs out. However, in the small rural town in which he lives, his employment prospects are low, not because he isn’t a hard worker, but due to the reputation his father, currently serving time in the state prison, and his mother who was a drug addict. His family name is tarnished. No one will hire him.
In desperation, Jack resorts to searching for drug money rumored to have been hidden by his father before he went to prison. Setting out to find the money, ignites every kind of danger for Jack and his brother, who draw the attention of his father’s bitter rival, Victor Bardem, who is after the same treasure.
Bardem is a dangerous, relentless killer whose capacity for violence feels limitless. The only small spot left in his heart is for his daughter, Ava, aged seventeen. Ava lives in fear of her father who controls her in every way. Ava teams up with Jack, not because she has designs on the money, but to try to protect him from her father, who she understands in a way that Jack cannot. In doing so, she incurs the wrath of her father, who will not tolerate such disloyalty. The central question of the novel is will Jack and Matty find the money and get out before Bardem tracks them down and kills them both? And will Ava abandon her father and his deadly control in search of a better life?
Anderson’s impressive debut is atmospheric and engaging. The ghastly suicide sets off in motion a series of dramatic events that makes for a thrilling, if painful story. Anderson’s book may remind a reader of No Country For Old Men in its cadence and tone, not to mention the subject matter involving the pursuit of illegal drug money and a ruthless killer willing to do anything in order to make sure he gets the money instead of the main character, Jack.
There are some wonderful sentence-to-sentence descriptions, too. Anderson is best when she sticks to the simple but precise details that are unique to these people’s lives and thoughts. Her descriptions of Ava’s early hunting lessons, her care with which she depicts Jack’s love for his little brother, and the attention to detail to the landscape of the locale, is all excellent. Elmore Leonard once wrote, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it” and I admit that occasionally the prose in What Beauty There Is may sound self-conscious. However, my view on such matters is minor compared to the overall excellence in this richly described text with its depiction of teenagers in the most dire of circumstances, imprisoned by circumstance, and desperately alone.
I anticipate great things from this talented new writer and look forward to the next book.
Many thanks to TheWriteReads for including me on the blog tour of Cory Anderson’s chilling and utterly absorbing debut!