“Sugar Run” by Mesha Maren— Before and After Life in Prison

Maren, Mesha. “Sugar Run”, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2019. Before and After Life in Prison Amos Lassen In 1989, Jodi McCarty turned seventeen years old and sentenced to life in prison. When she’s released eighteen years later, she finds herself at a Greyhound bus stop, dealing with the shock of unexpected freedom and determined to chart a better course for herself. Because she is not yet able to return to her lost home in the Appalachian Mountains, she heads south to look for someone she left behind, as a way of finally making amends. When she gets there she meets and falls in love with Miranda, a troubled young mother living in a motel room with her children. Together they hope l to have a fresh start but they do not know what to do with their pasts and with a town and a family that refuses to forget, or to change?

Set in rural West Virginia, this is a searing and gritty look at making a break for another life through the use of makeshift families and how the mistakes we’ve made remain with us for long periods.  Jodi McCarty went to prison for a mysterious crime we learn about as the story unfolds and she is eager to return to her home in the Appalachian Mountains. Her detour to the south that was supposed to be well-meaning, ends up threatening to keep her from staying on the straight and narrow. Written as a Southern noir, the book follows Jodi as she tries to rebuild her life and when this is hindered by things over which she has no control. Maren writes beautifully and with keen insight and she manages to make us feel compassion for characters even with their flaws and problems. Her descriptions of America’s modern wastelands in this gritty novel are wonderful. Basically this is a novel about two girls on the run and who are actually two damaged women trying to rebuild their lives. We really see what life is like for those who slip through the cracks of society and remain on the margins. Our two women are the type of people we rarely see, much less get to know yet they come across as sympathetic. Jodi went to prison for murdering her older lesbian lover and now free she wants to settle down and grow roots. The story moves from one adventure to another and even though some of it is not so believable, the prose keeps us reading. “Sugar Run” maintains a dual storyline: the first follows Jodi and her girlfriend Paula through drug-fueled poker binges in 1988 and the second follows Jodi’s release from prison in 2007.
A lot happens in this book and the plot covers small town bigotry, the awful destruction brought on by fracking, substance abuse, poverty, the love of land and the shifting of love. It can be a tough at times as it explores place, connection and redemption in the face of the justice system and the struggle to avoid destructive choices.

Leave a Reply