Where do I begin with my review of this multi-dimensional and dynamic novel? For starters, Kerney’s narrative style, linking the mysterious disappearance of a young American girl in 1902 Guatemala, into the lives of three other women – the American ambassador’s wife, Dorie in a turbulent Cold War 1950’s Guatemala; Lenore, an evangelical missionary in the early 1980’s still beset by civil war; and Jean, a middle aged single parent who brings her adopted Mayan daughter for a “Roots Tour” designed to help her understand where she came from, reminds me of Anthony Marra’s narrative in his recent The Tsar of Love and Techno. It is a style in which the writer frequently referrers back to people and events throughout the story that forces the reader to pay attention as they suddenly appear. The result is a dynamic and turbulent tale in which this reader never felt he was on stable ground.
This is also a novel, in my opinion, that has multiple themes which enrich it and offer the reader a great deal to ponder and experience.
One theme is a theme about the clash of cultures – American and Guatemalan; Guatemalan and Indian (Mayan); missionary and native. Kerney strips back the rhetoric, both political and religious, and reveals that even good intentions are not enough when it comes truly understanding another culture.
A second theme has to do with the strength of women across the century who deal with their own limitations as they face incredible challenges in a culture and country far from their own. This is a strength of this novel.
I liked Hard Red Spring for its strong characters; historical context; and its narrative style that calls the reader to consider that the past always has an influence on the present. For this, I gave this novel a five star Goodreads rating.