Our heroine was living for ten years off a grant to write a book, which she totally ignored until the last minute, when she began the process only to experience an oddity where she lost the ability to write words – from adjectives to adverbs to vowels and finally to nouns – leaving her unable to proceed. When her backers demanded proof that this book actually existed, she spread the word that she’d fled the country, hiding in her apartment disguised as an Asian gentleman until she finally decided to escape to her childhood retreat. The turning point was running into Mercy McCabe, the woman who stole away her beloved Bebe, the love of her life. Despite the fact that McCabe, after ten years, had broken up with their mutual love interest, our heroine is determined to exact revenge, murder to be exact.
The first step is to convince McCabe to come with her to Judge Wilkerson’s house, a swanky estate at the top of Round Hill in an affluent neighborhood of Elmira which is not too far from the Capital. It is here that our heroine spent her youth as her mother was the housekeeper for the Judge and his wife. Revisiting this haven and establishing a routine of caring for the home, reminiscent of her deceased mother’s tasks, doesn’t deter her from her ultimate plans, even as she comes to care for her companion. Since McCabe is a wealthy SoHo art dealer, she is established as the “owner” of this “rental” property with our heroine the servant, along with the cook/maid, a fellow Latina, who is hired to care for them. Eventually our heroine wants to visit her childhood home in Shangri La, a Hispanic community on the outskirts of Elmira, which isn’t important enough to be included on the area map. She gets caught in a blizzard, seeking inadequate protection from the elements, waking up back on the hill with bandaged frostbitten legs and feet. Unable to walk, McCabe, whose appearance and personality have changed due to an apparent illness, tenderly cares for the invalid over a period of weeks – lovingly washing and bandaging her wounds, emptying her bed pan, and feeding her healthy broths to build up her strength. Our heroine begins to develop positive feelings towards her Protector, but just as she starts to feel better, McCabe disappears without a trace. Frantic to find details of Mercy’s whereabouts, she goes to town visiting the library, “pumping” Mrs Crandall, the librarian, for information (while carrying on a torrid affair in off hours). Despite her desperate attempts to lure McCabe back to the Judge’s house, she still has plans for her execution, setting up a funeral pyre in the old ice house in preparation for the big event. Who shows up when the doorbell rings on Christmas Day is a unexpected climax where the events which unfold culminate in confusion and a less than satisfying ending to this saga.
Don’t worry, even though our heroine loses her ability to write, the author, Ana Simo, has pocketed all those verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and nouns and gone into overdrive as she wrote Heartland. When I describe her writing style as verbose and even over the top, I am referring to the act of wading through an excess of verbiage to figure out the plot. To make things even more confusing is the intermix of a dystopia starting with The Great Hunger in 1984 where the world as we know it has experienced some sort of trauma which has destroyed a whole swath of areas, leaving behind what is left of the major cities. None of this, or anything else for that matter, is explained, so the reader must come to their own conclusions. The heroine’s homosexual obsession with her former love interests, both childhood and adult sweethearts, as well as with the current well endowed librarian, seems to feed a mania which borders on insanity. Whether you want to read the ramblings of an unstable woman who rants crazy, racist expletives, depends on your stamina. Despite its relatively short length, this book is not a quick read and I’m not sure if there’s an audience for this psychopathic, violent tale of an imaginary version of our “heartland”. Not for the faint of heart.
Two stars and a thank you to Edelweiss, Restless Books, and the author for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.