By Ian Pisarcik
This one hell of a debut novel. Ian Pisarcik can write a damn good yarn. At its roots, Before Familiar Woods is a thriller, a mystery, but it is also a whole lot more. It’s grit and guts, addiction and PTSD, hard men and harder women. It’s murder and vengeance, death and retribution. It is all these of things in the middle of a hard Vermont winter covered in 3 feet of snow, and there is beauty underneath all of it.
Three years ago, two fifteen-year-old boys were found dead in a tent in the woods. Rumors abound in this small town. Ruth Fenn and everyone around her are really just existing, kind of just waiting for this pot to boil, not knowing if the answers to this mystery will ever really truly come to light. Meanwhile, we meet Milk who returns from the war in Iraq, and is trying to figure out how to be a father to his young son. Ruth and Milk’s paths align on a course towards a harrowing conclusion. I have never been to Vermont, but this book made it feel like home. The forests were much bigger, deeper and more virgin than what I am used to, otherwise this book could have taken place outside my own back door.
Ruth Fenn is a character I am going to remember for a long time. I found myself really sinking deep into the scenes with dialog, especially between Ruth and Della as well as Ruth and Elam. The relationship between Elam and Ruth, the conversation there – the bits at the end where they look forward to the rest of their lives, when they are finally able to look away from the past.
At the very end we flashback to a scene of Ruth’s son Matthew – one of the boys from the tent. At first, I didn’t really understand this flashback. I liked the original “ending” of the story prior to the flashback, and felt deeply that it should have truly ended there. In fact, I felt so strongly that I made myself go back and read the final chapter again. I still kind of feel the same, but there was one bit of beauty in there for me on the 2nd reading. Ruth and Elam are looking forward, and I felt like that was the direction the reader’s eyes should be facing as well. In reality, all that any of us can hope for as we walk through this life, this town, this existence, is that we did what we could to smooth what was once rough and jagged.
Review by Well Read Beard
I won a copy from the author in a Twitter contest.