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Reviewed by Neil A White for Readers' Favorite
On the Bricks, set in the small town of West Plains, Arkansas, is the debut novel from Penni Jones. And from the opening chapters, the hopelessness of a drug-fuelled, dead-end existence for the main characters seeps uncomfortably, yet convincingly from the pages.
Ms. Jones’ novel begins with her protagonist, Cass Blankenship, paroled from prison after serving ten years for a murder she is determined to prove she didn’t commit. Returning to her hometown of West Plains, she moves into a halfway house run by her recovering-addict sister. There, we meet a cast of characters that are as desperate to overcome their lot in life as they are helpless to prevent further relapses. The ex-boyfriend, whose mother Cass was convicted of killing. His new wife, who also happens to be his cousin. His two children; one wishing Cass was her new mother, the other too high on meth to care. And then there are the residents of the half-way house; each with a life-shattering story of their own to tell. Cass’ efforts at discovering the truth behind the murder are thwarted at every turn until an inopportune relapse by her sister leads to a shocking discovery.
Ms. Jones paints an agonizingly accurate portrayal of life in the rural south, where too often drugs are viewed as the only hope of escape from a dead-end existence. And even when one has dreams to rise above the status quo, untimely circumstance can still rear its ugly head to drag you back down into the mire. Not the “feel good” novel of the year, but well-written, gritty, and with fascinating characters that will nonetheless draw you into their seedy lives. On the Bricks is an excellent debut effort from Ms. Jones and one I highly recommend.