Megan Kruse’s debut novel, “Call Me Home,” evokes the chilling landscape of domestic violence, but more poignant in Kruse’s story is the sibling connection at the heart of the novel, one that is tested by the volatility of the parents.
Kruse grew up in the rural Pacific Northwest, and among the remote trailers and impoverished towns of Washington state she sets “Call Me Home” (Hawthorne Books, $18.95). Told in alternating viewpoints, readers come to learn about Amy and Gary, parents to Jackson and Lydia.
Kruse skips back and forth through time to introduce Amy when she first meets Gary, both teenagers growing up in Fannin, Texas. Gary’s intensity burns like the smoldering coal of a cigarette, and Amy sees blushes of the violent man he would become. She secretly marries him, knowing her parents would disapprove; his dream is to move to Washington, and she agrees to go just as soon as her beloved dog dies. It’s no great surprise that the poor, senile dog goes missing.
The move to Washington hews closely to the pattern of isolation familiar to anyone with a knowledge of the cycle of domestic violence. But there are some good years – Amy gives birth to a boy, Jackson, a character with the most interesting voice of the three narrators. When Lydia comes along a few years later, the marriage struggles. As Jackson and Lydia grow, the atmosphere in the house becomes more and more tense, with physical violence escalating into emergency room visits. Kruse details Amy’s repeated attempts to flee with the children in heartbreaking prose that offers a glimpse into a world of fear that brings her and her children closer together.
The chapters told in Lydia’s voice are the only parts of the story written in the first person, yet Jackson is the most compelling character by far. He’s a young, handsome gay teen in a town and home where he can’t be himself, and his journey takes him from the streets, prostituting, to a construction site in Idaho where he falls in love with his boss. Jackson’s scenes of coming to terms with his sexuality are the most polished in the book, and his longing for a place that feels like home is what drives the narrative. He’s on his own because of a choice he made that jeopardized the safety of his mother and sister, and the reader can’t help but be swept up in his ache for something resembling home.
Kruse’s quiet debut hints at a formidable literary power as she explores what it means to live with fear while also searching for some sense of home.