Saturday, March 30, 2019

Book Review: "The Ash Family" by Molly Dektar

Berie is unsure of what path to follow with her life. She seeks something more meaningful, something more essential, but she hasn't any idea of what that is until she meets enigmatic Bay at a bus station near her home in North Carolina. Bay promises Berie the life she's been imagining, on a farm cut-off from the rest of the world, where they live communally, fully off the grid.

"This was the real world, he explained, and if I stayed I'd get a real-world name to replace my fake-world one. He said I would come to understand that there was no definite self: in the Ash family there was no selfishness, so there were no possessions, no children, no couples."

Bay tells Berie that she can stay for three days or the rest of her life. The Ash Family Farm seems to be the solution she needs, so she changes her name to Harmony and settles in. And as different as life on the farm is from anything else she's experienced, anything else she's been used to, she finally feels a part of something, and begins making friends.

But like anything that seems perfect, life on the farm isn't quite that. More and more, Harmony starts to question things that are happening to her friends. She knows she needs to leave yet this is the first place she's truly felt she belonged, so can she ignore the warning signs she sees? When does belief change into brainwashing, when does devotion turn to fear?

The Ash Family is an interesting exploration of life in a cult, and how, once you begin to see things as they really are, you sometimes can't seem to decide between whether to stay or whether to go. Do we pay attention to the truth in front of our own eyes, or do we disbelieve the things we see? Is the feeling of belonging enough to overcome the misgivings we have?

There was an underlying sense of tension in this book that Molly Dektar really teased out quite well. While I found certain things about the book frustrating, such as a lack of character development in some cases, and not as much weight to the plot as I wanted, I was taken in particular by Dektar's evocative use of imagery. Her description of things was so vivid, poetic almost, that I felt like I could see things she mentioned very clearly.

This book reminded me in some ways of the independent film Martha Marcy May Marlene, starring Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes. That movie, too, talked about a cult with an enigmatic leader, and also left me with more questions than answers. But even with its shortcomings, this is an interesting story, one that will definitely keep me thinking long after I've moved on to other books.

NetGalley and Simon & Schuster provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

This book will be published April 9, 2019.

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