book review: The Line That Held Us by David Joy



G.P. Putnam’s Sons, August 2018


The Line That Held Us is less of a mystery than it is a present day Aeschylean revenge saga set in Appalachia, which explores the gruesome ramifications of a hunter accidentally shooting and killing the brother of one of the town’s most notorious and violent men. The premise was really fantastic, but David Joy didn’t exactly sell me on its execution.

The thing that most struck me about this book was a noticeable lack of tension in Joy’s writing. Moments of horror and extreme violence were unable to hit any emotional beats as Joy’s prose was so lifeless and perfunctory. At one point there was a paragraph about how a man parked his car down the street rather than parking it in front of someone’s house, which laid out these reasons in unnecessary detail before concluding helpfully: ‘… and that’s why Calvin had driven past and parked up the road.’ Thanks, I couldn’t have deduced that myself.

The lack of suspense unfortunately extended from the writing to the plot, which unfolded as inevitably as you’d expect from the onset. But I do think some writers can pull this off spectacularly, writing a novel which feels like an inevitable train wreck that you’re unable to interfere with or look away from, and therein lies the tragedy. I think this tried to be one of those novels, but without any sort of momentum or tension to drive it forward, it failed miserably.

And then there’s the treatment of the sole female character, who has no personality whatsoever but that doesn’t matter anyway, because her pregnancy quickly becomes her entire identity. “You’re going to get out of here for this child, she thought, the world having taken on a singular meaning. Nothing mattered outside of what she carried.” (I’ll have to remember that the next time I’m kidnapped: as long as I’m not pregnant, there’s nothing to worry about.) I mean, I understand the sentiment he’s going for, but women having no purpose in their lives until they become mothers is a trope that should have died 50 years ago.

Anyway, for all that, I didn’t hate this book – it was very quick and readable (despite the fact that I prolonged it for over a month, but that says more about my lack of free time than it does about the quality), and I know I’m in the minority in not thinking this was brilliant. But still… this just didn’t do it for me.

Thank you to Netgalley, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, and David Joy for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.