See How Small by Scott Blackwood

see-how-small“A riveting novel about the aftermath of a brutal murder of three teenage girls, written in incantatory prose “that’s as fine as any being written by an American author today.” (Ben Fountain)

One late autumn evening in a Texas town, two strangers walk into an ice cream shop shortly before closing time. They bind up the three teenage girls who are working the counter, set fire to the shop, and disappear. SEE HOW SMALL tells the stories of the survivors–family, witnesses, and suspects–who must endure in the wake of atrocity. Justice remains elusive in their world, human connection tenuous.

Hovering above the aftermath of their deaths are the three girls. They watch over the town and make occasional visitations, trying to connect with and prod to life those they left behind. “See how small a thing it is that keeps us apart,” they say. A master of compression and lyrical precision, Scott Blackwood has surpassed himself with this haunting, beautiful, and enormously powerful new novel.” – Goodreads

On an autumn evening in Austin, Texas, three teenage girls are finishing up their shift at a local ice cream shop when two men walk in. When the men leave, the shop is on fire – the three girls still inside, murdered, naked, and tied up with their own underwear. While the murders and arson take only moments, the aftermath of the violence has a much farther reach – friends and family of the girls, as well as emergency personnel, spend years attempting to cope with the trauma.

Interestingly enough, the plot of See How Small by Scott Blackwood is a familiar one to residents of central Texas: It was inspired by the unsolved Austin yogurt shop murders from 1991. While four men were arrested in the case, and two were convicted, both guilty verdicts were later overturned and the crime remains unresolved. In the strip mall where the yogurt shop once stood is a small plaque commemorating the victims.

The novel alternates points of view, following those linked to the girls in various ways. There are the girls themselves – Elizabeth, Zadie, and Meredith – who speak from the afterlife as a chorus of one, whispering to those they left behind. Kate, the mother of Elizabeth and Zadie. Jack, the firefighter who first responded to the fire and found the girls’ bodies. Hollis Finger, a homeless disabled veteran who is one of the few witnesses but due to a head injury he received in Iraq, can’t quite put together the words to describe the perpetrator.  Michael, who worked as the killers’ getaway driver, is haunted by memories of his dead brother and of the girls whose murders he helped to cover up.

Blackwood’s writing is lyrical and evocative, wrapping around the reader’s heart and squeezing, squeezing, until your breath is taken away. At no point does he become too wordy or dramatic; his brutal emotional honesty hits hard and leaves one reeling. There are no graphic descriptions of the violence perpetrated here, and readers are left to imagine the fates of the three girls – which is almost worse, in a way. His depictions of the emotional torture that those left behind after the murders go through are tragic – heartbreaking, even.

Let me be clear: this is not a crime novel, or a thriller, as some seem to have expected. This is pure literary fiction in fine form, with a just a hint of mystery thrown in. This novel is as gorgeous as it is disturbing and will pull you in from its first words until tossing you away, wasted, with the last. I was truly, truly impressed with the pure beauty of Blackwood’s writing – I haven’t encountered such that I found as lovely in quite some time. See How Small is a intricately woven, emotional, and brutal novel. Highly, highly recommended.

See How Small by Scott Blackwood: Read it today!

5 stars

Source: Lincoln City Libraries

 

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