Melissa Anne Peterson makes her fiction debut with the dark and explosive Vera Violet. The novel's namesake character hails from a rural and hardscrabble small-town named David in rainy Washington State. The narrative follows Vera as she flees to St. Louis and tries to establish a new life working in an urban school. Her life in David is revealed in flashbacks. The narrative slowly circles a series of harrowing crimes and a cast of scrappy, small-town characters, including Vera's love, Jimmy James Blood. The characters get involved in the crystal meth trade with devastating consequences.
Peterson, who grew up in rural Washington, writes visceral and darkly poetic prose. She first entices readers with a reference to a lurid crime and a kind of neo-noir appeal: dark, foreboding landscapes, a rusty white Ford and a .40 caliber handgun. What Vera is fleeing from isn't just an isolated crime, but rather an entire way of life. She contrasts small-town life with her new life in St. Louis. Rather than being an ideal refuge, the city is rife with poverty and inequality but structured differently from her hometown. In the city, she notices economic stratification along lines of race and other factors. In this way, Peterson builds a class consciousness between poor rural whites and disenfranchised people of color living in urban areas.
Peterson brings life to a host of memorable characters whose struggles are seared into readers' brains. Vera Violet announces the arrival of a new writer who is comfortable with her craft and knows how to relay a story in vivid and affecting detail. Vera Violet packs a powerful punch. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset