Review: Marla Cantrell
By Lou Berney | William Morrow, publisher | 456 pages | $14.99
There are places in Fort Smith where you can put one foot in Arkansas and the other in Oklahoma. We live in this border town, so connected to our sister state that the events that happen there feel as if they’ve happened to us.
And if you were around in 1978, you likely remember a robbery/murder at an Oklahoma City steakhouse called the Sirloin Stockade. Six workers died, four of them teens, the youngest only fifteen years old. They were discovered in the restaurant’s freezer. The killers left the scene with fifteen-hundred dollars.
Writer Lou Berney was thirteen at the time, and working at a fast food place across town. He remembers thinking how terrified those teens must have been. And then, in 1981, two thirteen-year-old girls went missing from the State Fair of Oklahoma. They have never been seen again.
These two tragedies fueled the fictional story, The Long and Faraway Gone. The storylines diverge—the multiple murders happen in a movie theater after hours and one teenage boy survives. A teen girl goes missing at the fair the very same year after she walks away from her younger sister with instructions to wait until she returns.
When tragedy strikes while we’re still young, it can hold our futures hostage. That’s the case for both the survivors of these dual crimes. The teen boy leaves town as soon as he can, dropping everything but the memories that haunt him. The girl whose last memory is of her older sister walking toward danger holds onto the hope that her sister is alive somewhere, still beautiful, still turning heads when she walks in a room.
The book volleys between the time of the crimes and twenty-five years later as Wyatt, the boy who survived, and Julianna, the sister of the missing girl, search for answers.
Wyatt, who’s now a private eye in Las Vegas, has been called back to Oklahoma City to work on a case that he thinks he’ll solve in just a day or two. Julianna has never left, hoping her sister will come looking for her one day. Both Wyatt and Julianna discover new leads that take them down dangerous paths.
The Long and Faraway Gone examines the power of memory, the particular ache of first love, especially when it ends in tragedy, and the ties of sisterhood that last far beyond the grave.
Berney is a master of storytelling, carving out a world so real you could step into it effortlessly, and then taking you through a chain of events that will keep you up late at night turning the pages. By the time the book ends, you will feel as if you know Wyatt and Julianna well enough to love them. You will hope that whatever they face in the future will be good enough and kind enough to soften some of what they’ve lived through. I like to think it was.