Book Review: SUGAR RUN, adapting to life after prison in rural West Virginia

Maren, Mesha - Sugar Run (1)Sugar Run
Mesha Maren

As a teenager, Jodi McCarty, after a brief affair with criminal Paula and life on the run, was convicted of manslaughter. Eighteen years later, she was released and before returning to West Virginia and her first appointment with her parole officer, Jodi was determined to fulfill a pact made with Paula: to extricate her younger brother, Ricky, from his abusive father.

On the way, Jodi meets Miranda who is staying at the same small Georgia town motel. Separated from a washed-out country singer with three children, Miranda is flighty and irresponsible, but also beautiful and charismatic. The two women begin and affair, and with the reluctant Ricky, the group of six cram into Miranda’s small car and drive to West Virginia where they plan to homestead on Jodi’s grandma’s property.

Jodi and her family had lived with her grandmother, Effie, when Jodi was a child. When her parents decided to move into town with her brothers, Jodi stayed with Effie, leading to a relationship that never quite recovered. Yet, when she returns to West Virginia with her ragtag crew, they use it as an excuse to throw a party.

Once ensconced in the primitive, rural cabin, Jodi faces numerous obstacles, including finding enough money to feed the entire household, dealing with the community’s and her own feelings about gay relationships, fending off the drugs endemic to the area, and fighting the fracking that threatens the land.

In Sugar Run, Maren slowly reveals Jodi’s history with Paula in flashbacks until the crime that sent her to prison plays out bloodily in a motel room, where it seems Jodi’s relationships begin and end. Who owns land versus who belongs and knows the land is questioned. Maren also explores the numerous figurative prisons that are as restrictive and possibly more insidious than the jail from which she was just released. Through Jodi, she concludes that the most restrictive cage were the past patterns she fell into and the future path she had established eighteen years before without any flexibility or thought she might change. In that awareness, she finally gained freedom.