Tall Bones gave me quite a visceral reaction while reading. I found it oppressive and uncomfortable but also completely addictive. It is a psychological mystery thriller about a 17 year old girl, Abigail Blake, who goes missing from Whistling Ridge, a small town in America.
But the story is also very much about the curse of the insidious small town mentality that uses religion as an excuse to be bigoted, backward and just plain awful to anyone they view as different from themselves.
Opening sentence: The roar of the bonfire is hard to distinguish from the sound of the trailer-park boys and the schoolgirls who holler and dance in the shadow of the Tall Bones.
The Blake Family
Dolly Blake is a lost woman. She married Samuel young and has spent most of her marriage trying to escape. For good reason really – Samuel drinks to much, is violent and uses religious zeal as a way to justify his terrible actions. Their children: Noah, Abigail and Jude bare the brunt of this dysfunctional upbringing with little love.
A trigger warning – it is often hard to read the chapters about the complex Blakes, as the abuse involved is pretty horrific, which gives credence to the idea that Abigail perhaps ran away of her own accord…
Tall Bones is structured in a very enticing way. A new nugget of plot info or a character revelation is dropped at the end of most chapters until all the threads tie together.
We are also told the story through ‘Now’ and ‘Then’ chapters. The defining point between them being Abigail’s disappearance. This way, we slowly learn just how many people in the town actually had a dotted line to Abigail before she disappeared.
What are the Tall Bones?
The Tall Bones are silent silhouettes against a night sky silvered with moonlight.
Yes, they are a local landmark of white rocks and the scene of the crime, so to speak. The woods next to them was the last place that Emma saw her best friend, Abigail. Emma is determined to discover what happened to her friend and finds herself enlisting help from people she wouldn’t have usually hung out with – Hunter, son of one of the local big shots and Rat, who lives on the trailer park owned by Hunter’s father.
Rat is from from Romania, called ‘the gypsy’ by the locals and is the focus of their collective despair and anger at their own lives just because he is not from around these parts.
In God’s name
Tall Bones has an overwhelming sense of unease and injustice is rife. This is what made my reaction so visceral. Put it this way: some of these characters would have definitely voted for Trump. This is what I found this an uncomfortable read – these characters made me so annoyed, using twisted religious justifications to cover their own hatred.
How easily you can blur the line between the Lord’s wishes and your own.
Really powerful and wonderfully written, this story is very raw, very unforgiving, very claustrophobic and very memorable. Tall Bones is Anna Bailey’s debut novel. An English author, she lived in Colorado for a while and took her inspiration about small-town America from her real life experience. I am still thinking about this book days later, it’s such an evocative story that shines a light on the seedier side of small-town society.