Review: The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney
By Deborah LacyFebruary 9, 2015
The Long Faraway Gone by Lou Berney is a standalone novel that examines two unsolved crimes from Oklahoma City and what happens 27 years later when the survivors try to discover the truth behind the tragedies.
Lou Berney’s The Long Faraway Gone starts 26 years ago in Oklahoma City, right before two crimes are about to be committed. The first crime is the murder of six movie theater employees – five of them teenagers – during a robbery. The second is the disappearance of a teenage girl during a summer fair. Both of these crimes wake up a city unused to such horrible events.
The story unfolds from multiple points of view. Berney begins the novel in the summer of 1986 from the point of view of Bingham, the movie theater manager of the movie theater before the robbery happens:
In summer, season of the Hollywood blockbuster, Bingham got to work at eight in the morning and didn’t leave until long after midnight. His only break from the movie theater was dinner at six – thirty minutes of blissful, beautiful solitude he spent parked out by the lake, eating fast-food tacos and listening to the water slop against the clay bank.
Through Bingham, we get to know the kids who work for him there and see a glimpse of his life. Then we see the robbery go down from his point of view. A boy named Wyatt is the only survivor, and no one knows why. Least of all him.
Then we see the second tragic event: the disappearance of a beautiful teenage girl, who leaves her little sister at a summer fair for a few moments and never comes back to get her. The little sister, Julianna, makes it back home safe, but not sound. Even after she has grown up, she can’t seem to get her life together. Her missing piece is the mystery of what happened to her sister, Genevieve.
The crux of the story is the impact the crimes have on Wyatt and Julianna’s lives and how they attempt to make some sense of what happened, each in their own way. We see the victims, long-gone, through their eyes. We see them alternatively run from the past and then turn and face it. And we see how it tortures them throughout.
I got emotionally entangled with all of it. The book is so well-written and the story so compelling, I read it all – from cover to cover – in one day. I haven’t done that in a long time.
It’s always tougher for me to read about teenage or child victims, even when fictional. I originally picked up this novel because I loved Lou Berney’s previous two books, Gunshot Straight and Whiplash River (2012 Edgar nominee). While the subject matter of The Long Faraway Gone is much heavier than those books, the voice of the characters carried me through the tough subjects. And the story wouldn’t have been the same without it.
I loved the writing in this book. Here’s an example of Wyatt’s initial resistance to going back to Oklahoma City:
That was Wyatt’s philosophy when it came to the past: Stay out of it. By doing so he had lived a happy life. A life undrowned, unbroken on the rocks, unswept toward an empty horizon.
You caught a whiff of a certain perfume as you walked across the casino floor at the Bellagio and you kept walking. You caught a few bras of “If She Knew What She Wants” by the Bangles on the radio and you changed the station. You lived in the present tense where the past has no power.
The Long Faraway Gone is an excellent book written with literary style. Berney’s characters, especially Wyatt, will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page. If you like mysteries about the human condition artfully told, you will love this book. I can’t wait to see what Berney has in store for us next.