The Den by Abi Maxwell Tinder Press May 16th 2019
A hypnotic story of YOUTH, SEX and POWER
A story of two women cast out by the same community though separated by a hundred years A story of two extraordinary, magnetic women and their disappearances – a hundred years apart – from the small New England town they call home.
Henrietta and Jane are growing up in a farmhouse on the outskirts of town, their mother a remote artist, their father in thrall to the folklore and legend of their corner of New England. When Henrietta falls under the spell of Kaus, an outsider and petty criminal, Jane takes to trailing the couple, spying on their trysts, until one night, Henrietta vanishes into the woods.
Elspeth and Claire are sisters separated by an ocean. Elspeth’s pregnancy at seventeen meant she was quickly married and sent away from her Scottish village to make a new life in America. When she comes to the attention of the local mill owner, a series of wrenching and violent events unfolds, culminating in her disappearance.
As Jane and Claire search in their own times for their missing sisters, each uncovers the strange legend of Cold Thursday, and of a family apparently transformed into coyotes. But what does his myth really mean?
Are their sisters dead, destroyed by the men who desired them? Or have they made new lives, elsewhere, beyond the watchful eyes of the community they longed to escape?
Two women, one hundreds years apart both had things in common, both sisters, both rebels in their own way and more importantly both disappeared. What connected them, what effect did it have on the families left behind, and the sisters who wanted nothing more than to find them?
The Den did more than answer those questions, the author exploring the gamut of human emotion and anguish that surrounded Henrietta and Elspeth. I loved the way Maxwell used The Den, the home of Elspeth, the little house in the woods to connect their stories.
For Elspeth, it was where she raised her three boys, lived with her husband Thomas. For Henrietta, it was a refuge, the place she escaped from family, and at times shared with her sister Jane.
What was even more interesting was their commonality, their need for something more, for, if you like, forbidden fruit that would force their escape. They each had tenacity, the strongest will to survive and succeed, to attempt to come to terms with what they had done. Maxwell highlighted issues that faced women in the 19th Century, that still existed in the 20th century, the lack of understanding, of acceptance of women’s issues, of their perception seemingly unchanged in an increasingly modern world.
But what of those they left behind? Jane, the annoying younger sister who spied on her sister, whose one action would have consequences that would affect her entire life. She was your typical twelve year old, full of naivety as she tried to make sense of an adult world. Maxwell brilliantly showed a woman who could never fully settle, or come to terms with the past, the back of her mind always strayed to her sister, of where she was and when or if she would ever return.
Elspeth’s sister Clare again, felt the same emotions, carer to her parents, yet that desperate need to find her sister.
I loved the mystery and intrigue Maxwell swirled around the sisters searches. The way in which she linked the two was clever and compelling. Nature played its part, the chilling history of coyotes and wolves, the fear but also admiration and respect they provoked. The weather, with the deep freeze of a brutal winter, or the lashings of heavy rain cast a veil over events, as Maxwell used them to great effect, to hide secrets just waiting to be exposed.
The Den May have been a search for the missing but it was its examination of human nature that shone through. Of the regrets, the foolhardiness and naivety that drove Elspeth and Henrietta, the consequences of their actions, the need to put things right. Jane and Clare, the pursuers, who held steadfastly to their belief that they would be reunited. They may have experienced personal anguish, but it was to Maxwell’s credit that you never saw them as victims, never felt sorry for them, but admired their strength and determination.
The Den skilfully navigated the complexities of two societies that may have been years apart, yet in perception and expectation were the same. It was utterly compelling and engrossing.
I would like to thank Tinder Press for a copy of The Den to read and review and to Anne Carter Of Random Things Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Abi Maxwell is the author of an acclaimed story collection, LAKE PEOPLE, and her fiction has also appeared in McSweeney’s. She studied writing at the University of Montana and now lives in New Hampshire, where she grew up, with her husband and son.