Despite the odd title, DUST AND MUD by Sarah Mattern boasts a colorfully evocative cover that features a young woman surrounded by thriving plant life beneath darkly threatening skies in a way still likely to draw potential readers in, and they can consider themselves lucky, because this debut novel is a treasure of thought-provoking happiness. Built of four sections, plus prologue and epilogue, the structure is deceptively simple for what turns out to be a storyline that weaves between past and present while alternating narration by a handful of intriguing characters.
First of all there are twins Kyle and Ellie Dray. They don’t have much of a family as the offspring of a very remote, ambitious father, but they have always at least had each other, until certain events come crashing down, painfully and perhaps permanently rending their bond. Then there is Ben of the Watering Hole trailer park, a rural community of sorts–intended by Ben’s own, much-warmer father to provide misfits with a sense of home. Ben writes Ellie in jail, offering her a place at the Watering Hole when she gets out. The trouble is, almost getting Ben killed is why she was originally arrested and sentenced to eight years. Additionally, readers will hear from LGBT Jared who attended college with the twins and still has strong feelings for Kyle. And there’s Anna, Ellie’s cellmate, a nurturing firecracker who regularly spouts perceptive pearls of insight along the way. There’s the reporter known as Richard (aka George, aka John, aka Paul), who is hot on the trail of an investigative article centered around Ellie The Bomber Girl, who just happens to be the daughter of the renowned Nevada governor who himself seems to be in the process of ascending to even loftier political heights. And there’s professor Dr. Nigel Parker whose research directly intersects with what happened to students Ellie and Kyle.
Even beyond all these folks providing a direct point of view, the novel is populated with other fascinating individuals as well. Yet the author manages to juggle this extensive cast of characters masterfully, and through them unveils a host of provocative societal questions around mental health and each citizen’s responsibility to combat corruption wherever it may be found which is likely to give readers much food for thought. Most touching is that many of these characters remain unwilling to give up on each other, even when circumstances might indicate that completely letting go would be wise.
A bit resonant of the premise from an old familiar nursery rhyme, DUST AND MUD by Sarah Mattern beautifully explores the central theme that, perhaps, even after a very great fall, sometimes those who deeply love and are deeply loved, can be put back together again.
~C.S. Holmes for IndieReader