Simon & Schuster
April 9, 2019
Blurb: When a young woman leaves her family—and the civilized world—to join an off-the-grid community headed by an enigmatic leader, she discovers that belonging comes with a deadly cost, in this lush and searing debut novel.
At nineteen, Berie encounters a seductive and mysterious man at a bus station near her home in North Carolina. Shut off from the people around her, she finds herself compelled by his promise of a new life. He ferries her into a place of order and chaos: the Ash Family farm. There, she joins an intentional community living off the fertile land of the mountains, bound together by high ideals and through relationships she can’t untangle. Berie—now renamed Harmony—renounces her old life and settles into her new one on the farm. She begins to make friends. And then they start to disappear.
Thrilling and profound, The Ash Family explores what we will sacrifice in the search for happiness, and the beautiful and grotesque power of the human spirit as it seeks its ultimate place of belonging.
SASCHA DARLINGTON’S REVIEW
The Ash Family by Molly Dektar is a quandary of a novel. On one hand I read it with the awkward zeal of an individual trying not to view gruesome carnage while on the other I felt nothing but repugnance, mostly, for the main character.
I realize that it’s not always necessary to like the main character, but in a story about a teenager being lost and joining a cult disguised as a commune, it feels necessary. Despite her affection for animals and nature, Beryl/Berie/Harmony feels more like an automaton, trying to make people like her, than an actual person with feelings and empathy, or sympathy, for that matter. Her apathetic feelings toward a mother who seems to be trying to do everything for her daughter seems cold. If it weren’t for her caring for animals, I’d be pretty quick to label her as a sociopath for her emotionless dealings with the people around her. She lusts after Bay, the man who manipulated her and preyed upon her, who brought her to the Ash family by seduction, but that seems to be her sole emotional vulnerability. I would say that she was brain-washed, but her behavior does not show significant change to warrant that label.
In a typical novel, Queen, a former drug user who Bay picked up during her lowest point, probably would have been the “heroine.” She has desires and feelings that the reader can relate to. She sees with clear vision what is going on around her and cannot totally subjugate herself to Dice, the main man. Harmony feels superior to Queen. Harmony feels that she is the good girl. But it’s Queen who shows hope.
As for the beliefs of this particular family/cult, I was stymied. Infrequently (if at all) do we read about people who care about the environment using warfare as their means of action. Using climate change as the catalyst for violence seemed wrong and out-of-character. Maybe that’s just hope on my part.
There are several scenes that are not for the faint of heart, especially for this vegetarian, animal-loving reader. Others might have different reactions.
Dektar’s writing is wonderful, however. Her descriptions are detailed and fluid, demonstrating an ear for rhythmic, flowing prose. Her words paint beautiful pictures when she’s describing the environment of the southern Appalachia.
As for the wolves and mountain lions roaming in the mountains near Asheville, NC, I wondered if this was a metaphor.
The Ash Family is a page turner, no doubt. I read it, completely spellbound for most of it (not the gruesome parts, which almost made me stop reading), in a day. To me, that always says a lot about a book. My major complaint is that Harmony was not a likable character where I felt she needed to be. I wish the cult had been formed around something other than climate change. The writing was excellent. That sums it up.
After that, you can judge for yourself if you think that this is a book that you might like to read.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
4 out of 5 butterflies