In an unusual way, the timeline of this story begins at the end of the tale, and ends at the beginning of it. Working backward and forward in time, in one chapter we find ourselves in Jake Whyte’s present life, and in the next we are in her past, moving forward, filling in most of the details, to further develop and explain how she got from stage to stage, cleaning toilets, turning tricks, and ultimately shearing sheep. At some point, it all plays out very nicely and the segments of her life fall into place.
This technique makes it an interesting read, but it is also a little bit confusing, from chapter to chapter, until the pattern of the forward and back narrative becomes clear. Often, to figure out where you are in the present or the past, you have to first recognize and then place the character and event that Jake is describing. Still, it is written so well that the tension builds and the reader is trapped within the pages with a burgeoning curiosity. While Jake tries to determine what it is that is attacking and killing her sheep, the reader will be trying to determine why Jake is running, what she is running from, and how she got her scars. Going backwards in time, one part of the riddle is revealed, and going forward, the other is intimated.
As Jake Whyte narrates, her thoughts sometimes seem to be surreal, so that at times, it becomes hard to determine if she is awake, dreaming or imagining certain scenes. Also, it took awhile for me to discern that the animals in the story were not people since there behavior and names were described in such a way as to give them a double meaning. Dog was her friend and protector, and she spoke to and treated the dog as if it was an equal. Kelly was another dog that took on human characteristics, but as more of a tyrant in the service of a bully.
Her youth was scarred by bullying and disappointment. Something lurking in her past and in her memory gives her nightmares. Her adult life is scarred by the fear of being discovered, being found out and returned to the place of her youth where something awful happened. She is afraid of being sent back to that place, a place that in her memory is also remembered fondly, not fearfully, but as her home, where she was part of a two parent family with triplet brothers and a sister. What terrible memory or deed is haunting her days and nights?
This is Jake’s story. She is masculine looking, strong, humble, unconcerned about appearances, and very private. Her behavior is often impetuous and her responses to some situations are oddly simplistic and naïve. The tale is about her attempts to survive, in spite of obstacles and in the face of some unsavory experiences because of some sleazy people she meets. It is about her successes and her failures as she does what she must. Along the way she is abused by others, robbed, grows disillusioned and remains terrified of being caught. However, we don’t know what she is running from, what is it that terrifies her, what fiend is chasing her that she fears will catch up to her, no matter how far she runs.
There is an undertone of racial issues, and there are implications about the sexuality of some individuals. A tone of remorse and repentance hang in the air, and in some cases, there is a moment of forgiveness in unexpected places. There appear to be unseen monsters and hidden secrets in many of the character’s lives, hidden terrors, hidden deeds that must be resolved and for which they must atone. Will redemption ultimately be attained?
In the end, the reader will wonder if Jake’s nightmare receded into the woods, or did it simply make itself known more vividly. In certain places it feels like there are holes in the story, as it proceeds from time frame to time frame and incident to incident, and I wondered if the holes represented the empty spaces in Jake’s memory or if they represented the emptiness in her life? Would the story have been better if there were no empty spaces, nothing left to wonder about?
At the very end, do both Lloyd and Jake come face to face with their own fears, and conquer them, or simply watch them run away to return another day. Has Jake been imagining the shadows and the handprints? Surely something is hurting the sheep, but what is that? Is Jake’s past really so dark or is she a victim of circumstance or an overactive imagination? Although there is rough language and sex in the story, they feel entirely appropriate for the characters’ behavior and are not gratuitously used for effect.
The birds sing, laugh, honk like fire horns and, eventually shriek and scream throughout the tale. Does their behavior mirror Jake’s emotions and concerns? Has she gone from singing to shrieking and perhaps back to singing once again?
It is a good read, even with the odd moments of confusion.