When a young woman leaves her family—and the civilized world—to join an off-the-grid community headed by an enigmatic leader, she discovers that belonging comes with a deadly cost, in this lush and searing debut novel.
At nineteen, Berie encounters a seductive and mysterious man at a bus station near her home in North Carolina. Shut off from the people around her, she finds herself compelled by his promise of a new life. He ferries her into a place of order and chaos: the Ash Family farm. There, she joins an intentional community living off the fertile land of the mountains, bound together by high ideals and through relationships she can’t untangle. Berie—now renamed Harmony—renounces her old life and settles into her new one on the farm. She begins to make friends. And then they start to disappear.
My Thoughts: We meet Berie, the first person narrator of The Ash Family, as she veers off course, drawn in by a seductive man named Bay. Instead of flying off to college in Virginia, she leaves the airport and heads to a bus station where they meet. Together they journey to the farm community that promises to fulfill her need for something bigger than herself.
Berie apparently lacks something in her life that might be satisfied by such a community, and while I was almost sucked into its promise, I couldn’t understand what was missing in our protagonist that led her to such a community. We know little about her life up to this point, so her actions seem blindly unmotivated. If she had suffered abuse at home, or if she were fleeing something frightening, I could almost see why this young woman might be drawn in to its charms. Later we learn more about how sometimes not feeling anything at all can lead to wrong-footed choices.
The characters and the setting were beautifully described, and I could sense the appeal of Nature and a desire to preserve it in all its glory. Protecting the environment and the people in the family from the “fake world” could be a lure for someone like Beryl, now named Harmony.
It did not take long, however, to feel a sense of stultifying horror as nothing seemed to live up to that promise. A mix of cruelty and kindness, punishment and reward were the confusing elements that felt like a crazy-making scheme designed to hook in new family members. Searching for that sense of family and true purpose were powerful enough to blind new members to the underlying dangers…until it was too late.