The Long and Faraway Gone, by Lou Berney

“Sometimes the best lie was just the truth left to ripen on the branch too long.”

I’m kind of a snob when it comes to physical books. There’s a very specific kind of trade paperback aesthetic that I just adore: A little shorter than a hardcover, thick ass pulpy paper, matte cover, very floppy. Think about the kind of book you can roll up a little while you’re reading, and when you set it down, it flops right back to flat. The lack of any sort of gloss coating on the covers and not too much glue in the spine means the binding is nice and malleable, so there’s no chance of it cracking if you read the book a little too hard. Seriously, if a book is like this, at the very least I am going to pick it up and flip through it. It’s just a perfect feel for a book.

I found a paperback copy of The Long and Faraway Gone in the used book store at my local library that had these exact characteristics. I picked it up, flopped through it, read the synopsis and said “Yep, getting this one.” Then I set it on my shelf and proceeded to forgot it entirely until a few months later, one night last week, when my wife decided she was going to make pasta from scratch. When I help prepare any dough based food, I tend to hinder more than help, so my job that night was to select a book and read to her while she pressed the dough. I’d step back in when it was time to boil and drain. I was taking too long at the bookshelf as usual, trying to select just the right book to fit the mood of the evening when she came in, flour all over her hands, an impatient look on her face. She closed her eyes and pointed randomly at the book from the library bookstore that I’d forgotten about. Remembering, I took it off the shelf and followed her back into the kitchen to start reading.

“Was memory like a river that slowed over time to a trickle? Or was it like a house with many rooms that became a house with fewer rooms and then finally just a single room you could never leave?”

Lou BerneyThe first thing that struck me was that it had great characters. Great, great characters. They were all so unique and different from one another, especially the secondary ones. They felt alive with their own voices. The next thing was that it had that clipped prose style that mystery novels are well known for. I loved the short, incomplete sentences. When a story calls for them, they add so much to the pace and feel of a book. The story itself dripped with youthful nostalgia for shitty summer jobs, rural summer fairgrounds, and summer flings. It dealt with loss and blame and guilt and questions of purpose. I loved how there were multiple mysteries unfolding at the same time. Some were resolved along the way, like side-quests in a videogame, or b-plots in a season arc of television. Others not until the book came fully to its close.

The setting of Oklahoma City was a nice change of pace from the usual Los Angeles, New York, Louisiana based mysteries that are a dime a dozen. Plus, OKC is only a few hours from the city I’ve been living in the last twenty years, so it was fun seeing something similar to where I live represented so well. We ended up taking turns reading it to one another and absorbed the book over the next three or four nights. It was so good that I immediately went out and bought another novel, Gutshot Straight, by the same author. It’s sitting on my shelf right now, but I want to wait a while. I’m planning on forgetting all about it, so it can be picked at random some night, and read together with my wife.