“Orchids and Stone” by Lisa Preston
The first chapter of Sequim author Lisa Preston’s debut novel is a bracing plunge into a world of shattered families and hard work.
“Orchids and Stone” is an addictive mash-up of psychological thriller, mystery, and contemporary family drama.
Meet Daphne Mayfield, a Western Washington University student who’s just a few months away from graduation. But when her father commits suicide on the anniversary of her big sister’s unsolved murder 10years earlier, Daphne upends her own life by quitting school and walking onto a construction site that advertises a women-in-construction training program.
Daphne has zero experience. On the first day she’s asked to “load a roof,” which means hefting bundles of shingles onto her shoulder, climbing a ladder, and delivering them to the rooftop — over and over again. She’s invited back the next day.
And another decade later, Daphne is still in the construction business. A few years back, she had moved in with Vic, her boyfriend.
He has visitation rights with his two kids from a failed marriage — and as adolescents who live most of the time with their vituperative mom, they put Vic and Daphne through their paces when they come over every Wednesday afternoon and every other weekend.
It is after one of those wearing Wednesdays, burdened with the additional cloud of indecision about what to do about their aging, ailing dog, and with the double-whammy anniversary of her father’s suicide and sister’s murder approaching, that Daphne goes for a walk in the park to sort through things.
She’s in a worthwhile relationship with a nice man, but one that carries the lifelong censure of Vic’s venomous ex, as well as the problems of dealing with kids who are torn between their mom and their dad.
She also has to contend with the ongoing shock and grief that both she and her mom feel as survivors of their own imploded nuclear family. Her dad had been unable to cope with his elder daughter’s brutal unsolved murder. “Somebody saw something,” had been his mantra.
But nobody ever came forward.
And for her own part, Daphne feels guilt that she never tattled to her parents about her free-spirited sister’s late-night forays away from the house. If she had told on her sister, could she have saved her?
But Daphne’s painful ruminations are interrupted when she hears something. An elderly woman comes shuffling along the park path, mewling for help. The woman, disheveled and distraught, claims that someone is trying to kidnap her and take her money. And sure enough — someone is coming up the path after her — a lady calling after her mother. The lady apologizes to Daphne for her mom’s unhinged behavior, and shepherds the protesting old lady to a car that is waiting at the curb.
Daphne is left wondering. Did she just “see something”? Should she have done something? And so concludes Chapter Two.
“Orchids and Stone” is a revelatory exploration into the calls for action versus indecision, and the consequences of each. It is a riveting read.
The Bookmonger review appears each week in Take Five. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.