Book Review: The Distance From Four Points
Author Margo Orlando Littell
By Julie Carpenter
Robin Besher’s goal for her adult life has been to bury her time in Four Points, a poverty-stricken coal town in Appalachia, but she finds that the past doesn’t always stay put in this riveting story of a mother who finds her worst nightmare coming true. Robin, who has been living in a posh Pittsburgh suburb, is forced to return to the small town where she once escaped an abusive family situation through teenage prostitution. Worse yet, her own teenage daughter, Haley, must return with her. The Distance From Four Points was not as far as Robin led herself to believe.
When Robin’s husband dies, she discovers that he has invested all of their savings in a group of ragged rentals in Four Points, Robin’s hometown. Her beautiful suburban home, trips to the mall, the shiny new life she struggled for has been drowned in the Yough River along with the man who provided her escape. She has nowhere to go but back to Four Points to live in one of the decrepit rentals herself until she can make enough money to get her old life back.
This story is beautifully written with a tight, compelling plot. All of the characters, from her daughter to her former best friend, Cindy, are sympathetic and real. Robin’s return to her hometown is believable and the reader feels for her as she gets pulled back into the tragedy of her history. She is faced with mending relationships she’d meant to abandon, while she faces a growing awareness that she doesn’t know what she wants or who she is meant to be because she’s spent her whole life running from her past, always looking back. Only when she explores her past can she begin to see her future.
The story is set in the Appalachian Mountains, coal country. The novel explores the desperation of poverty and the walls that money can build up between people. Littell has a deep and obvious love of the area, especially the old houses that are often left in ruins over time. She writes about social class and poverty clearly and compassionately, elucidating the differences (and in the end the similarities) between Robin, who managed to escape Four Points, at least for a while, and her friend, Cindy, who ended up stuck there.
The theme of this book is particularly compelling for those of us in middle age (or older) as we too discover that the past is never really the past, no matter how deeply we bury it. History is always meeting us around some corner in the present. And it’s not just our own lives that are affected. As we watch Robin grapple with her past and struggle with her present, we see ourselves. This story meets life head-on, wrestling with problems, sorrows, small triumphs and redemption beautifully. Be warned, it’s hard to put down!
We highly recommended taking this book out into the garden and preparing to stay there until you've finished. (See picture above). We also recommend Littell’s Each Vagabond by Name
Julie Carpenter is the creator of the Sacred Chickens website and author of Things Get Weird in Whistlestop, a collection of short stories . She is dedicated to telling stories and making sure that indie writers and publishers have a way to be heard. She uses narrative, her own and others’, to help interpret the world. She has a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Memphis, with an emphasis in Composition Theory. She wants to bend reality one story at a time. Julie’s work has appeared in Fiction on the Web and has appeared in The New Guard. She is currently working on a novel.