Well... what can I say. I started this book (a Novella it is true) last night and finished it 21 hours later in two sittings separated by the necessity of 5 hours sleep and the irritation of an 11 hour working day - a day incidentally when my thoughts strayed several times to Montessa Tovar and Lu and what must still lie ahead of them.
The book naturally falls into two parts - two acts in an electrifying drama, well suited to my bifurcated reading schedule. It is difficult to write about either half without littering this review with spoilers, but then a book is far more than its plot. Characters drive a story's beating heart and quality writing is the lifeblood that courses through its veins. It is this which transforms the bare bones of a story, the nuts and bolts of plot and scene, into a haunting reading experience to send ripples of shivers down your spine.
Mercedes M Yardley has deftly drawn a mesmerising pair of deeply damaged people in Montessa and Lulu. Montessa is a young woman doing exotic dances in a seedy bar so that an ungrateful boyfriend can be kept supplied with the means to abuse her.
Lu? Well Lu is a truck driver. To be honest it took a little while for me to work that out - the "semi" being an idiom that does not cross the Atlantic well. I mean I could tell it was a vehicle but in the UK a semi is a house, a semi-detached house - one of conjoined pair that populate housing estates and suburban streets across the land.
In essence Lu and Montessa meet and what follows is a road trip of sorts - but Thelma and Louise it most definitely isn't.
Yardley writes dark stories, stories that delve into bleak corners of human existence. Like the spot beams of those deepwater submersibles probing ancient wrecks, her writing shines unaccustomed light on dark creatures slumbering within the human psyche. It can make for an uncomfortably convincing read - desperate people, desperate circumstances rendered with such vivid credibility. And even in horror something beautiful can flower - like the poppies in the Flanders fields.
Yardley's stories always challenge the reader, flirting with violence but never indulging in it. For Yardley it is always about what the mind thinks more than what the body feels - it is about the experience of being human while perched on the brink between life and death. And that evocative theme is always well served by Yardley's elegant economical prose while the reassuringly surreal touches that augment her characters remind us it is only a story.
I dare not say more, it is too short a book to risk spoiling with the merest hint of what might happen. I will just quote one short early passage which struck me with the powerfully simple insight into Montessa's working life as she packs up at 3.a.m.
"She put her six inch stilettos in her purse, along with her dancing costume. It didn't take much room."
When I read Yardley's work I am put in mind of the opening verse of Don Maclean's soft lyrical tribute to Van Gogh
Starry, starry night
Paint your palette blue and gray
Look out on a summer's day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul
Though maybe it is the darkness in everyone's soul which she captures in those quick short sentences as she paints a page in red and black.