One of Entertainment Weekly’s Most Anticipated Books of 2019
“A heady admixture of explosive plot and taut, burnished prose . . . Mesha Maren writes like a force of nature.” —Lauren Groff, author of Florida
In 1989, Jodi McCarty is seventeen years old when she’s sentenced to life in prison. When she’s released eighteen years later, she finds herself at a Greyhound bus stop, reeling from the shock of unexpected freedom but determined to chart a better course for herself. Not yet able to return to her lost home in the Appalachian Mountains, she heads south in search of someone she left behind, as a way of finally making amends. There, she meets and falls in love with Miranda, a troubled young mother living in a motel room with her children. Together they head toward what they hope will be a fresh start. But what do you do with your past—and with a town and a family that refuses to forget, or to change?
Set within the charged insularity of rural West Virginia, Mesha Maren’s Sugar Run is a searing and gritty debut about making a break for another life, the use and treachery of makeshift families, and how, no matter the distance we think we’ve traveled from the mistakes we’ve made, too often we find ourselves standing in precisely the place we began.
One of Southern Living's Best New Books of Winter 2019
“The literary lineages here are hard-boiled fiction and film noir, but on every page of her debut novel, Mesha Maren creates bold new takes on those venerable genres, a much needed refresh of worn tropes and clichés. Maren is masterly at describing America’s modern wastelands, the blasted towns not yet and maybe never-to-be the beneficiaries of rehabilitation and reoccupation. You can almost see Maren—like Raymond Chandler—cutting each typed page into three strips and requiring each strip to contain something delightful (startling simile, clever dialogue, brilliant description) offered to the reader as a recompense for a world that presses up against you all raw and aggressive and dangerous. A language that fully owns its power to capture just that 'heart-wild magic.' ”
—Charles Frazier, The New York Times Book Review
“A darkly steamy first novel . . . ravishingly rugged . . . a literary page-turner, hair-raising in both plot and prose. Maren writes with windswept grace and stark sensuality."
—O, The Oprah Magazine
“Sugar Run is a shining debut, with a heady admixture of explosive plot and taut, burnished prose. This is a book that loves its wounded characters and troubled places, and in so deeply loving, it finds a terrible truth and beauty where other writers wouldn't have found the courage to look. I'm glad to be among the first to sing the praise of this young writer when I say that Mesha Maren writes like a force of nature.”
—Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies
“Crisp as mountain air and full of grit and heart, Maren’s writing announces a new voice in the Appalachian noir genre.”
—Garden & Gun
“We love Mesha Maren’s Sugar Run, a gritty noir novel like you’ve never read before.”
“A tense, atmospheric Southern noir spiked with queer themes, Sugar Run weaves between two timelines in its depiction of Jodi, a woman just finishing an 18-year prison sentence.”
—Entertainment Weekly (The 50 Most Anticipated Books of 2019)
“Sugar Run throttles . . . The clip is fast and exciting.”
—Wall Street Journal
“Through exquisite prose and beautifully nuanced storytelling, Maren offers a complicated examination of love, identity, the passage of time, and the way small decisions can propel a life forward. . . . undeniably tender.”
“In her darkly crackling debut novel, Mesha Maren takes readers for a wild ride, the kind that feels like you’re hurtling down a backwoods road at night, not quite sure if you’re ever going to be able to stop, wondering if you might even suddenly take flight. Maren’s story jumps back-and-forth in time, following the lives of two women, both aching with their need for love and freedom. Maren details the struggles and triumphs of these women with unflinching precision and language as beautiful and ferocious as a summer storm.”
—Nylon.com (50 Books You’ll Want to Read in 2019)
“In Masha Maren's impressive debut, Jodi McCarty is released from prison after an 18-year sentence and is determined not to repeat past mistakes. While wandering around the South, she meets a young woman named Miranda, who has just left an abusive relationship. Together, they go looking for someone from Jodi's past and head to West Virginia—followed by the demons that haunt them both. This slow-burning novel asks if we can ever really escape the past and start over.”
“Character-driven . . . Sugar Run gains its strength from Maren’s uncompromising storytelling and her insistence on showing even the most painful realities . . . Seamless.”
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Intriguing . . . lyrical . . . Maren adroitly incorporates issues surrounding poverty in rural America into her narrative, including drug dealing and addiction; lack of jobs; fracking, which destroys communities and the land’s ecological health; and gun violence, which can change everything in a moment. Maren’s story is engaging and full of damaged and provocative characters who, like all of us, can be misled by our hearts.”
“Caught in the divide between the haves and the have-nots, Jodi is a perfect illustration of the fallacy that good intentions and hard work reap success . . . she does the best she can, tugging her heartstrings tight around her substitute family of misfits, each one of them desperate to escape their messy past lives. But in her effort to save everyone else, she risks losing sight of herself.”
“Take a chance on an unfamiliar author and be rewarded with a fresh perspective, original language and a bold plot . . . Raw, unsentimental language saturates this atmospheric novel and realistically depicts the texture and tenor of a former convict’s first days of freedom . . . Mesha Maren’s debut may be bleak, but it is so honest in its depiction of the families we are born into as well as those we create, and how we make the same mistakes we've made before, even when we think we’re not.”
—Addison County Independent
“The interlocked and heartbreaking stories of Jodi and Miranda and Lee and Paula and Paula’s simple, badly used brother unfold in language that is just plain grittily gorgeous. These are stories of violence and passion and squashed hope . . . and you will feel every word. A highly recommended debut.
—Library Journal (starred review)
“Remarkable . . . An accomplished short story writer, Maren makes her debut count with emotionally charged prose and a sense of the yearning we all have for home.”
“Maren writes beautifully and with keen insight, but what makes this debut truly special is her ability to engender compassion in deeply flawed characters; that’s the power of good fiction.”
—Amazon Book Review
“There’s an awful lot of talk about the underrepresentation of rural (or suburban, or urban) working class life in the higher echelons of American literary culture. And while to some extent that might be true, the stories are there, as are the writers, we just need to pay attention. To wit, Mesha Maren’s debut novel, about a young woman’s return to rural West Virginia after 18 years in prison, deserves your attention.”
“In Maren's darkly engrossing debut novel, two women yearning for freedom fall in love, but the secrets of the past and betrayals in the present threaten to crush them. [She] skillfully handles a dual plot, alternating chapters set in the near-present and 20 years before. The novel's noir tone and taut suspense are enriched by Maren's often lovely prose, especially in descriptions of the natural world, and sharp observations . . . This impressive first novel combines beautifully crafted language and a steamy Southern noir plot to fine effect.”
“Maren’s impressive debut is replete with luminous prose that complements her cast of flawed characters.”
“Dread and a lush natural world infuse Maren's noir-tinged debut as she carefully relays soul-crushing realities and myths of poverty and privilege, luck and rehabilitation, and the human needs that can precede criminality through love-starved loner Jodi and her band of fellow hungry souls.”
“In her debut, Sugar Run, novelist Mesha Maren plumbs the human dimensions of the economic and opioid addiction crises of rural West Virginia. And she does so with the kind of attentiveness and sensitivity that invites favorable comparison with the work of writers like Chris Offutt and Tony Earley.”
—Shelf Awareness (starred review)
“Mesha Maren’s timely debut novel, Sugar Run, is a roughly honest and poetic exploration of a sense of self in 21st century Appalachia, and of contemporary rural America. The story engages with the truths of mass incarceration in our country, gender identity, self-discovery and a sense of place.”
—Asheville Citizen Times
“Maren’s storytelling style is starkly unique. She creates a dynamic between the past and present that reveals just enough to keep you invested in the story . . . enjoyable.”
“The arch was dramatic, fresh and gritty, and Maren powerfully depicted the repetitive nature of personal mistakes, despite a change in environment. This makes the protagonist endearing and sincere . . . Maren ultimately shines a light on queer Appalachian women and tackles land usage, fracking and property rights in her verbose debut novel . . . Sugar Run is particularly important because of its highlight of issues in small-town, underprivileged communities.”
—The Daily Emerald
“Sugar Run, the strong and insightful first novel from Mesha Maren, puts stories to lives that are ordinarily overlooked, exploring damaged souls and damaged land, the need for that redemptive sense of connection to places and people. Maren writes prose that moves us ever deeper into her world without strain, but with sureness and vivid details. Drugs and flaring tempers, old wounds, and people who feel without hope but still dream of hope."
—Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter’s Bone
“Gorgeous sentences . . . Mesha Maren is a writer to watch.”
—Chris Offutt, author of Country Dark
“Sugar Run is a joyride--an intoxicating, headlong exploration of the hazards of freedom and the deadly consequence of desire. Maren's blistering prose will take your breath away.”
—C. Morgan Babst, author of The Floating World
"With Sugar Run, Mesha Maren announces herself as a wholly original voice in contemporary fiction. Full of diamond sharp sentences and perfect pacing, the novel runs wild like a mountain flash flood. In Jodi and Miranda and Paula, Maren gives us something we’ve needed for a long time now. Something new.”
—Scott McClanahan, author of Crapalachia
"Sugar Run is one of the most riveting novels I’ve read in years. How rare it is to find a writer who brings the reader so deeply into the physical world, letting her fully inhabit a place, a time, a character’s physical being, while also propelling a plot forward with the kind of momentum not often found so perfectly wedded to such beautiful language, such languid and sensual and potent imagery. The atmosphere of Sugar Run will cling to this reader for months, after which she will read it again. This is the debut of a major new voice, one who offers us a reality more vibrant than our reality, but honest, raw, and believable."
—Laura Kasischke, author of Mind of Winter
Mesha Maren’s short stories and essays have appeared in Tin House, the Oxford American, Southern Culture, Hobart, Forty Stories: New Writing from Harper Perennial, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of the 2015 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize, a 2014 Elizabeth George Foundation grant, an Appalachian Writing Fellowship from Lincoln Memorial University, and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Ucross Foundation. She is the 2018-2019 Kenan Visiting Writer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and also serves as a National Endowment of the Arts Writing Fellow at the Beckley Federal Correctional Institution.