Hinterland by L.M. Brown

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Shelley Carpenter


Hinterland by L.M. Brown

Hinterland (Fomite Press, 2020) by L.M. Brown is a curious title for an even more curious novel that explores the depths of a family secret and its lasting effects. The title references a place and from the Merriam-Webster definition, hinterland, with its German origin, refers to an area that is outside of a city yet tied to its economy. It made sense when I considered Brown’s setting takes place in and around Somerville, Massachusetts in the U.S. northeast. The city itself is part of the Greater Boston metropolis and Brown knows it well as she takes the reader on a private tour with her main character, Nicholas, a local cab driver. Another meaning might be metaphorical, perhaps an inner setting unfolding in the vessels and chambers of a father’s parochial heart.

Truth be told, Hinterland struck a nostalgic undercurrent in my reading. Having once hailed from Somerville myself, and my own father, once upon a time, a local Boston cab driver, I was already all in and intrigued where this novel would take me. How I love a good setting, real or imagined!

Brown sets up her characters with careful detail, bit by bit, word by word, she reveals them in an omniscient third-person point of view, deep and all-knowing in the character’s heads, beginning with Nicholas:

The rain gave a soothing rat-a-tat-tat and Nicholas felt incapable of getting out of the car. It had been a spring day when he’d stood outside Ina’s house covered in blood. He hadn’t cried then or when he’d stood back to see the bloody mess of the boy, or afterwards when the ambulance came… He didn’t cry until he learned the boy was left with brain damage. (80)

Carl Jung once said, “Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”

Nicholas’s story is an internal conflict that becomes external when the consequences of his choices bring him to the outer edge of despair when he fully realizes his mistakes and “awakens.” He is simple in his habits and means well despite an emotional handicap exploited by other secrets, past and present, that intersect with the main plot line unfolding through this likeable, yet very damaged character. His main goal is to protect his daughter, Kate, from their shared past and that traps them both and degrades what was once a good parent-child relationship:

[Nicholas and Kate’s] cheekiness in stealing from the house, in sharing secrets across the table and buying the extras sweet, had disappeared with Kathleen. There was no one waiting for them at home, no one to ask what did you do, what did you get? No reason to snigger and hide sugared hands. It was just the two of them , staring mutely across gnawed buns. (57)

Nicholas has a deep dark secret that Brown slowly peels back, layer after layer through backstory and flashback. Yet Nicholas remembers not only the sorrows, but the joys that came before, which makes him more believable and his story poignant. He recalls meeting Kathleen for the first time:

She’d shuffled into the back seat and he’d met her gaze in the rear-view mirror. … In the dark, illuminated by streetlights, he’d been able to make out the humor in her grey eyes. She’d made him smile…

“Do you have any stories?” she’d asked. (38-39)

Brown balances out all her characters, giving them grace despite their flaws and very human imperfections. Her characters shine off the page. Nina is a great example here, the childhood neighbor who returns and becomes a surrogate parent to Nicholas’s daughter, Kate, and a romantic interest to him, as well. And young Kate is one character to watch closely. She is the little white rabbit readers will chase through the pages to the heart of the story. The why of the secret. Brown keeps the reader guessing as she wisely shows what needs to be shown and tells the rest in exposition. Dialogue is spot on and the character’s movements are easily visualized.

Curiously though, Brown’s story fast forwards ten years to Kate’s early teens where an older Kate begins to ask questions and demand answers. Here is where the climax takes form as Kate’s stubborn curiosity is not easily satisfied with a sweet treat from her father or a visit with Nina. Brown uses this character’s teenage angst to build tension and conflict between the characters until ultimately something happens.

*

L.M Brown’s stories have won the Able Muse Write Prize for Fiction, and have appeared in Toasted Cheese, The Chiron Review, Eclectica, Litro, Bath Short Story Award Anthology (2020), SmokeLong Flash Fiction Issue Award (2020) and many others. She is the author of two linked collections, Treading The Uneven Road (Fomite Press) and Were We Awake (Fomite Press), and the novel Debris (Ink Smith Publishing). Twitter: BrownLornab Instagram: l.m_brown

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Shelley Carpenter is TC’s Reviews Editor. Email: reviews[at]toasted-cheese.com

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