Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Bookshelf Reviews K.D. Miller's Brown Dwarf

by Melinda Burns

Brown Dwarf by K.D. Miller is a mystery and a love story told by Rae Brand, a successful mystery series writer herself, who has returned to the “scene of the crime” in Hamilton, where the crime is hers. “I didn’t exactly kill my best friend,”she writes in her adult diary. “But I destroyed her nonetheless. You don’t have to lay a finger on somebody to destroy them.” The novel is the gradual revealing of what happened in 1962 between Brenda Bray, the girl Rae Brand used to be, with the pink-stitched “Pleasingly Plump” labels in her clothes, and her disturbingly precocious friend, Jori Clements as they haunted the escarpment that summer in their Jori-obsessed pursuit of escaped serial child killer, ClarenceFrayne. Jori offers danger and excitement to brow-beaten Brenda and a strange kind of love that is too compelling to resist. Scenes of Brenda’s life with the mother she calls “Hurricane Annie”, who is one minute exploding with rage, the next offering Brenda extra syrup for her pancakes, and Brenda’s entanglement with Jori and her upwardly mobile parents—Professor Clements quizzing Brendaon her views on euthanasia while Mrs. Clements hands around lemonade—alternate with the adult Rae Brand, walking the straight line streets of Hamilton, searching for clues to unearth the truth she has buried. The story moves back and forth in time as memory does, accumulating details, unravelling the secret like an outworn garment that no longer warms or protects, the multiple strands of what really happened becoming available to be knit into a new and truer self.

A “brown dwarf” is a character in crime fiction, the villain who is far from the prime suspect, too dull to be noticed. Also, it is “an astronomical wannabe”, once on its way to becoming a star, but it doesn’t shine, “something in its makeup was lacking”. Rae Brand tracks the villain, thinking she knows who the brown dwarf is, but, as in the best mystery stories, there is more to be found.

K.D. Miller is a poet and essayist as well as a fiction writer who writes with a clear-eyed humanity and devilish wit. Her novel illuminates the brown dwarf parts of us all as Rae Brand comes to see Brenda for who she was, neither entirely guilty nor completely innocent, but “culpable”, and in seeing that finds the love in her that wanted to shine.

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