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Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite
Narrated by a deceased family dog, Molly, The Lede to our Undoing by Donald Mengay, provides insight into the lives of Jake and Wren, twins in 1970s rust-belt America. Molly's observations reveal their experiences as they navigate a changing society against a backdrop of civil, women's, and gay rights movements. Molly was adopted into the family when Jake and Wren were tots, and in a homogeneous white Midwest suburb, she is witness to their lives, their growth, and the challenges they face in their relationships, intimate struggles intertwined with societal norms and taboos, and attitudes toward differences. Through Molly's lens, the novel captures the intricacies of their emotional journeys and broader cultural shifts, reflecting on a time when relationships defied convention amidst the tensions of the Cold War era.
The Lede to our Undoing by Donald Mengay has all the hallmarks of exceptional literary fiction. The use of Molly's perspective is incredibly creative and also surprisingly effective, and through her, Mengay is able to craft a story that overflows with well-developed characters, evocative settings, subtle foreshadowing, authentic dialogue, and meaningful symbolism. It is the symbolism that pushes Mengay's work from mainstream historical fiction into literary, and prose that embodies elements like the motif of the decaying amusement park to serve as a powerful symbol for feelings of neglect and abandonment. The evolution of the twins, and Wren in particular, feels organic and in tune with the pace of the story. Thematically Mengay does not reinvent the wheel, but he does push it back to a time and place where that wheel destroys anything that strays from the socially conventional “morals” in its path, and it is a beautiful journey as a reader to experience it starting to crumble. Very highly recommended.