Route 12 by Marietta Miles

Route 12 by Marietta Miles (All Due Respect Books) opens with a hulking deputy banging on the door of an apartment while inside the darkness of the apartment, a young boy holds his hands over his ears until the deputy gives up and goes away. The two novellas of Route 12 are the stories of the accidents of humanity, not in a sense of benevolence, rather a descent into our species’ collective maliciousness. Page by page, the reader witnesses the confusion and humiliation that the characters endure from the foulness of the people close to them.

Even though I physically looked away in discomfort while reading Miles’ novellas, putting my Kindle down and taking a breath, the quality of the story and the writing forced me to read on. Miles focuses on the small things that the characters experience, not just the fear and the pain. The boy we met at the beginning of Route 12 is now in a foster facility. In the dead of night, he is dragged by the guards to a senseless beating, but instead of a clichéd description of screams and physical flailing, Miles writes, “Percy smells the thick, greasy smell of Royal Cream.”

But I read on telling myself that nothing more hideous can happen and I am wrong, so wrong. We are with Theresa, a pubescent girl, who is being moved from one family relation to another. Again, it is the writing.

Theresa slides out of the truck while Ricky grabs her train case and suitcase. She stares at the tall house. The cold night air stings her nose. With both of her bags tucked under one arm, he finds a house key on top of the doorsill and lets her in the foyer. He sets her suitcases inside and looks at her awkwardly.

“They’ll be asleep, so find your way upstairs.” He pauses. “Your grandparents will be alright to you.

“Well, goodbye girl.” He pulls the door to and locks the bolt. She listens as he returns the key to the doorsill. The truck sputters to life and chugs away. Standing in the dark, cold house alone she hears the tick tock of a clock echoing.

As the first novella came to an end, I gave myself a few days to recuperate and knowing the second, Blood and Sin, could be nowhere as abhorrent or, more importantly, as good. Again, I was wrong on both counts. Marietta Miles’ Route 12 is devastatingly remarkable both in the stories it tells and her writing.

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