The Vines. Shelley Nolden. 2021. 391 pages. [Source: Review copy]
First sentence: A thick keloid encircled the young woman's throat like a noose, ready to seize her last breath.
Premise/plot: The Vines is suspense novel with paranormal vibes. The setting is North Brother island in New York. One thread of the story is set in the "present day" of 2007/2008. The other thread of the story is set in the past beginning circa 1902.
As for the story itself, well, how much is too much for readers to know BEFORE they pick it up? If I say too little, you might not be curious enough to seek it out. If I say too much, well, you might enjoy it less if some of the piecework has been done for you.
So my one sentence teaser:
One family plays god with repercussions that are felt for generations to come.
My thoughts: I am so completely torn on how I feel about Shelley Nolden's The Vines.
On the one hand, it is a haunting, atmospheric read that will certainly appeal to some readers. The plot is like a tangled, convoluted knot with a few strands for the main character, Finn, to start pulling. Readers have a benefit over Finn in some ways because they are privy to the PAST sections of the book. Finn isn't working with all the pieces--and readers may not have all the pieces either--and sometimes the harder Finn pulls, the more knotted it becomes.
Can characters be despicable without being developed and fleshed out? Maybe. Maybe not. I honestly don't know. I do know that I hated almost *all* the characters in this one. (Then again, I doubt readers are meant to *like* the characters.) So in that the author succeeds.
Motivations. This one takes a very long--almost four hundred pages--look at motivations. Do the ends justify the means? Is anything permissible so long as some good can come from it? If great good can come from great harm, then is that okay? The book also looks at the excuses we try to use to justify our actions, our decisions, our choices.
Two other questions that come to mind:
What can you live with?
What can you live without?
On the other hand, The Vines felt tedious. I'll try to clarify. Despicable actions are shown repetitively--think decades worth of repetition of EVIL, despicable, horrible actions. It is unimaginable to think of how it would actually feel to live this fictional life out. Cora, the main character, is definitely the last person you'd ever want to be.
When a book is so dark--even if it is a haunting, atmospheric read--and is so bleakity-bleak, and when a book is peopled with such MONSTERS, then it is hard for me to say wow what a great book I loved every minute of it.
I found it both compelling and wearisome. I know it seems impossible a book can be both. I would have thought so too before reading The Vines. It was compelling because I was always kept curious enough to keep turning pages. It was wearisome because it was so heavy and dark.
I do think some readers will find it worth their time. I don't think it will be for every single reader.
There were two things that I didn't quite like.
I didn't like how the author felt the need to push this one into being COVID-19 related. In the author note she mentions this was a work in progress before COVID and how she reworked elements of it to make it tie into the current pandemic. I felt it strains the novel a bit. Other readers may disagree. But I almost feel like it is making the claim that the pandemic is man made and intentional. That may not be the author's intent, I do not claim to know her intentions and thought processes.
I also didn't like the cliff-hanger ending. Being as torn as I am about the book, I really don't want to have to read another four hundred pages or so to find out what happens.
© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews