All Things Cease To Appear, by Elizabeth Brundage, is set in a remote farming community in upstate New York. In the late 1970s the town of Closer was on the cusp of change. Traditional farming had become financially unviable and the land was being bought by developers, eager to cash in on a growing demand for country escapes from the city elite. The residents of the town, who had known each other all of their lives, were forced to adjust.
The Hale family have been farmers for generations. When their farm fails the parents choose the ultimate way out leaving their three teenage sons to cope as best they can. George Clare, a newly appointed college professor, buys the old Hale farm at auction. He is aware of its history but chooses not to share this with his young wife, Catherine. She senses that her new home hosts a sadness but does her best to make it comfortable and welcoming for the sake of their toddler daughter, Franny.
Catherine struggles to settle away from her life in the city. She wishes to be a good wife and mother but misses the regard she enjoyed as an intelligent, working woman. Her husband is distant and critical, taking from her whatever he desires, by force if necessary, and belittling her efforts to find a niche in this watchful town. Over time she befriends Justine, a wealthy neighbour who is viewed with perplexity for being comfortable in her own skin.
“she’d discovered her true self […] peeling away the carefully wrought costume designed by her parents to find what glimmered beneath.”
“Gone were the scare tactics that indicted her body as a biological enemy, routine strategies of degradation that made her nearly desperate for a partner, someone who could love even her.”
George is wary of the changes in his wife. His method of dealing with people who do not follow his agenda is to ruthlessly gain the upper hand in their relationship, at whatever cost. He sets out to take from Justine as he has succeeded in doing with his wife.
The Hale boys are offered casual work by the Clares and through them we get to view life through the eyes of the younger generation of the town. The eldest Hale, Eddy, is involved with a young waitress whom he works alongside at a town inn. When George notices the girl, she too is drawn into his web.
The plot is one of life, of the dramas played out behind the closed doors of a marriage, of the intrigues of the disillusioned and the issues that haunt from upbringing. At the core of this story is George, a man capable of doing what many may secretly consider but rarely act upon. The author takes the reader inside the heads of each of the key characters, to rattle around amongst their dreams, ambitions, and day to day anxieties. The brooding undercurrents of the tale penetrate as they go through the motions of work, home life and socialising. Underneath the facade of acceptable behaviour there exist strangled lives.
The lyrical prose and imagery make this a beautiful read yet the pace is that of a thriller. From the off we know that a tragedy will unfold. There is evil lurking in plain sight yet so many look away, unwilling to pry for fear of what they may find and the personal repercussions if exposed. So much is endured despite all futures being unknowable.
I loved this book for the quality of the writing, the intriguing exploration of the secrets kept through inculcation. The plot development makes it a page turner but it is the portrayal of people and their myriad complexities that truly impressed.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Riverrun.