Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan


“That the struggle to find a connection between the people we have been and the people we become is not some crazy drama unique to people like me. It’s all of us.”

We kill off parts of ourselves throughout our lives, shedding bits and pieces that no longer make sense. There still remains a core that holds everyone we have every been, from that young curious child to the confused teen and so on. In that sense, we aren’t much different from the characters in this story. Some are trapped in time by the mysterious disappearance of their friend and wife, while others have moved on and ditched their old grieving selves. It’s a tangle, which ‘friend’ can be trusted? Years pass, they are punishing ones for Casey whose wife Wailer disappeared at the Eastern State Penitentiary, the place the college friends just wanted to look at, Tripper’s idea as he was a history major at Wesleyan  and wanted to see the ruins. No one could have known Maisie’s little brother Benny’s longing for a cat would spell doom for the friends. When Wailer’s remains  are found , the past surfaces and Casey is once again a suspect. Judith Carrigan can save her friend, she is the only one who can prove Casey’s innocence but coming forward means destroying the only true life, and love, she has ever known. This is the soul of the novel, what is identity and are lies admissible if they are vital to fitting into your own skin? Is is sometimes necessary to vanish from everyone you know and love if it’s the only means to living the life you hunger for? Without giving away Judith’s secrets, and why confronting the past would be killing off the life she has come to love it can be said that this is not just a story about murder nor a who done it. It is about identity and how we think we can shed our past, which can never be buried, it is a shadow that accompanies us to our dying day. It will demand to be acknowledged, if you can’t learn to embrace it and chose to run, it will drag you back.

Maisie’s little brother Benny was a character I wanted to spend more time with too. We know from the start of the novel, his ‘whim’ to have a kitty is a catalyst that changes the course of the friends lives. Benny is different from most people, and that never changes. I wish more time was spent on him, aside from Judith- he was a character I fell for. The story jumps through time and characters so it can confuse some readers. However, the story is a provocative one. It’s interesting to wonder how different Judith’s life would have been had she been born in this decade. Anything built on lies will eventually crumble, if all our childhood stories and fairy tales taught us anything it is that and yet we still lie to ourselves and others. Everything comes back around to bite us eventually, despite our intentions there comes a time we have to confront the consequences of our choices. For Judith, the time is now. How does Quentin play into all of this? Quentin’s decision destroys something inside of his friend Rachael as much as the death of Wailer does. This is a bit of a lesson in how we touch others in every choice we make, how we can have a strange effect on the lives of those near and dear even when we don’t mean to, when our steps are full of intentions  based on our own feelings and  we never stop to think how others could be poisoned by it. But we cannot understand the damage that will last long after our acts, not always, not even those of us who claim to be wise. There is a mountain of compassion I had for Judith, on the other hand you have to consider her beloved Jake and their son Falcon. Lies by omission are still lies, and Judith’s are whoppers- it is robbing Jake of his free will in a sense when she keeps her story to herself and yet there is a deep compassion one feels for her inner struggle, and understanding as to why she chose to remain silent. “There are times when I think it’s impossible to know another soul.  I don’t know, maybe we’re lucky that way.  If we knew what really went on inside other people’s private hearts it would make our eyeballs bleed.”  

Wailer isn’t the only who disappears. Her death is senseless, it is ruinous for everyone at the prison. Who locked the friends in? How could something turn so deadly? Casey feels unworthy of the love he had. Before his wife’s body is found, years pass and he imagines that maybe she got a look at her ‘slob’ of a husband and ditched him. Maybe Wailer just walked on off to a better life.  He never felt worthy, and he is living  in limbo, letting the years eat away at him. Becoming more the slob he felt himself to be, frozen in one moment. It’s interesting how we let our minds create a reality that is brutal to us, victimizing ourselves. The use of the old penitentiary is an interesting choice, as we come to see the characters locked behind prisons of their own creation in the years that follow. The body can be a prison just as much as the mind. We may not know who did it, but we know Casey is innocent. We know Quentin can’t vouch for him this time. Will Judith give up her life to save her friend, who once saved hers? You’ll have to read. I also have to comment on the cover, it is gorgeous and the title fitting. What hides behind the Long Black Veil?

Publication Date: April 11, 2017

Crown Publishing


2 thoughts on “Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s