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Heart Spring Mountain

"How easy to pass along our flaws--our anger, sorrow, reserve, withholding," says Deb, a middle-aged hippie, to her 20-something niece, Vale, in Robin MacArthur's gorgeous first novel. Heart Spring Mountain opens in 2011 New Orleans. Tropical Storm Irene has hit Vale's home state of Vermont, and she has just received word that her mother, a heroin addict she hasn't seen in eight years, walked out into the storm and hasn't been seen in days. Though apprehensive, Vale decides to return home, where she reconnects with her aunt, her cousin and her grandmother. As they join forces to search for their missing family member, they discover that their family secrets run much deeper than addiction.

The novel moves back and forth through time to show how three generations of women inherited the traumas of their ancestors: addiction, poverty and perhaps (if Vale's mother's stories about their Native origins are true) dispossession and racist oppression. Each chapter unfolds from the perspective of a different character, a structure that lends the story an expansive richness. MacArthur further underscores the importance of history and relationships by drawing parallels between the women's family history and the traumas affecting entire populations: "the storm and the opioid crisis... are, in some ways, symptoms of the same illness," Deb thinks. "Pharmaceuticals and crude oil. Hurricanes and heroin. Flooding and Fentanyl. All of them making their way upstream." Lyrical and faintly political (but never pedantic), Heart Spring Mountain is a timely wonder of a debut. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor