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Likely Stories - When The Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain

Random House

Horrific story of a detective who must overcome her loss while still managing her life.

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Paula McLain is the New York Times bestselling author of the novel The Paris Wife among others.  She also has two collections of poetry. She Lives in Ohio with her family. When the Stars go Dark is her latest novel.

The story begins with a horrific prologue. “The mother who tore off her dress when the police came to her house with the news and then ran down the street in only her shoes, while her neighbors, even the ones who knew her well, hid behind their doors and windows, afraid of her grief. / The mother who clutched her daughter’s purse as the ambulance sped away. The purse pink and white, shaped like a poodle and smeared with blood. / The mother who began to cook for the detectives and her neighborhood priest while they were still trying to explain to her what had happened, her hand raw as she chopped a mountain of onions, washed dishes in scalding water. No one could get her to sit down” (3-4).

The story resumes. “In thirty-five years, I’ve never left the state or lived anywhere South of Oakland, and yet the beauty still guts me. Stupid, effortless, ridiculous beauty that goes on and on and on—the roller coaster of the Pacific Coast Highway, the sea like a slap of wild color. // I pull over and park on a hard little oval of dirt just off the side of the highway, crossing both lanes to stand on a bald place above snarled brush and black saw-toothed rocks and bursts of spiky foam. The plunge is dramatic. Dizzying. The wind comes at me, clawing under every layer of clothing so that I have to hug myself shaking. Then my face is wet, suddenly, tears coming for the first time in weeks. Not about what I’ve done or not done. Not about what I’ve lost and can never get back, but because there’s only one place I can go from here, I realize, one road on the map that means anything to me now. The way back home” (16-17).

“By the time I reach Albion a few hours later, coastal fog has blotted out the sun. It swirls ahead of my low beams, making everything vanish and reappear, the twisting coast road and clustered fir trees, and then the village, finally, like something out of a dark fable—Victorian houses floating white and anchorless over the headlands, the mist all around shuddering and releasing, seeming to breathe. // I feel a clamping sensation as each winding turn brings me closer to the past” (17). Detective Hart is torn and still suffering from the loss of her daughter. She has a long way to go. Five Stars!

Paula McLain’s When the Stars Go Dark is an example of her detailed descriptions. Five Stars!

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.