Don't Turn Around
Jessica Barry
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Buy *Don't Turn Around* by Jessica Barry online

Don't Turn Around
Jessica Barry
Harper
Hardcover
320 pages
June 2020
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Author Jessica Barry's novel of suspense mixes Thelma and Louise with the legendary movie Duel. In Lubbock, Texas, two women--Cait and Rebecca--are on a road trip to Albuquerque. We aren't sure what the pair are running from, though Rebecca is obviously nervous, her smell filling the Jeep "like vanilla and sandalwood." Rebecca is one of Cait's "clients," just one more woman she must ferry to Austin or Dallas or Fort Worth. It's a long drive but quicker in the long run, because Lubbock is in "a dead zone." Cait's hunger is stirred with exhaustion, the tiredness of the struggle gritting her eyes and makes her bones weary.

Nine months earlier, Cait worked as a bartender and part-time writer. Sick and tired of a bunch of one-night stands with a "long line of assholes," Cait has found herself a mission of sorts, sharing the confidentialities of other women while kindly escorting them to their "appointment times." Nine months earlier, the controversial article she wrote was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek personal essay. Cait wrote the whole thing in an hour and sent it to her editor at a website that specialized in confessional essays and gossip.

Three years earlier, Rebecca and her husband, blue-eyed Patrick, moved from San Francisco to Texas. A political neophyte, Patrick is painted as a returning hero, a local boy who fought off "the demon coastal elites" and has returned triumphant to the Lone Star state. Rebecca has been left on the sidelines, labeled as a cold politician's wife. She could have pushed harder to find a teaching job in Lubbock, until Patrick was tapped to run for Congress.

Barry seduces us with the wide Texan roads and the tale of Cait's childhood in Clovis, her family the "poor ones in the neighborhood." In a tale told from both Cait and Rebecca's perspective, they spend most of the story together, betrayed and confused. Rebecca is certain Cait is not on her side until she knows for sure what is out there. The Sisters of Service have told Cait that she has the right to terminate a drive at any point if the client's safely is in immediate danger.

On the lonely Texan roads, the past for both women comes suddenly, vividly alive. Rebecca begins an agonizing backstory detailing her love for Patrick and how it struck her with "full force." Later, she would ask herself if she'd had a choice in the matter; the more she got to know him, the more she realized that Patrick had a singular vision for his life, and her role was to "slide into it like fingers in a glove."

There's a sudden unease that Rebecca cannot understand. The two women gathered in common purpose are in danger - a pickup truck is trying to run them off the road. Cait should have made them safe. She has never seen Rebecca look this upset, not even when a homicidal maniac is threatening them. There's something going on here, something Cait isn't seeing, something bigger than any story she could ever hope to write: "what's really going on here?" Cait's training has not prepared her for extracting the woman form the house of an abusive partner. Rebecca's loss can break her either way. Barry creates a disparity between the women's pasts as they morph into a common purpose that inadvertently bonds them to a killer who threatens to derail their mission. Time skitters and neither woman can manage to grab hold of it.

The desert undulates, rising into soft sloping hills, fringed with shrubs and prickly pear, the land around "like a long blank sleep." Barry's novel feels mercurial yet totally grounded in Cait and Rebecca's friendship, bonded by the story's wider pro-choice themes and their differing pasts.



Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Michael Leonard, 2020

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