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A family saga with a whole lot of heart, Dare DeLano’s Abilene is an homage to hardscrabble life in rural Texas and all those who call it home. It’s a poignant and atmospheric story centered on a group of strong female characters and with a couple of intriguing mysteries at its heart, and its myriad twists and turns are sure to keep readers engaged throughout.

Twelve-year-old Lenora “Len” Walker lives in a flat ranch house—“an oasis in the middle of all that brown”—outside of Abilene, Texas. The property has been in the family for generations and nothing much seems to have changed over the years, including the secrets that family members keep. The secret that most perplexes Len is the identity of her absent father, a man she knows only through a nearly thirteen-year-old dog-eared polaroid that she keeps hidden in a drawer.

When Len happens to catch a glimpse of country music star Clifton Wilkes being interviewed on a television program and notices her mother’s strange reaction to seeing him, she jumps to the conclusion that he must be her long-lost father. Her mother, Cora, denies it, but Len is convinced and determines to find a way to contact him, whatever the consequences for her and her family.

Things are made even more complicated by the fact that Len isn’t the only member of the family to suddenly find herself immersed in intrigue. After walking in on her husband and his lover “doin’ it right on the new couch she just had delivered last week,” Len’s Aunt Jean shoots Uncle Roger, leaving him hospitalized with life-threatening injuries and her languishing in the jailhouse. For her part, Cora is struggling under the weight of life’s disappointments and romantic entanglements, including some things she has never told anyone about.

Abilene is narrated from the alternating perspectives of Len, Jean, Cora, and Granny. While the chapters related by Len and Jean are set in 2001, the year they both find life changing beyond all recognition, some of Cora’s chapters are set in 1988, when she was an earnest student home from Georgetown for the summer, some in 1989 and 1990, when she was adjusting to being a mother, and some in 2001, when she is caught up in all the family dramas. Granny chimes in only once from 1989, offering her own interpretation of the past.

These differing viewpoints and diverging voices keep the story suspenseful and add to its pace. It’s clear from the outset of Abilene that there are many secrets and lies in play, and witnessing them unravel from the perspectives of the different characters—as they themselves slowly come to recognize what has been going on around them—is highly impactful and moving. There are plenty of emotional aspects to the story, particularly when it concerns issues such as domestic abuse, gaslighting, and sexual abuse, and DeLano clearly conveys all the raw feelings and sentiments.

Both devastatingly melancholy and surprisingly uplifting, Abilene offers an emotionally charged exploration of the meaning of family, the role of identity, and the difficulty of finding a place in the world.

Reviewed By:

Author Dare DeLano
Star Count 4/5
Format Trade
Page Count 224 pages
Publisher Mint Hill Books (imprint of Main Street Rag Publishing Co)
Publish Date 15-Oct-2023
ISBN 9781599489667
Bookshop.org Buy this Book
Issue August 2023
Category Popular Fiction