Out After Dark
Part fairy tale, part murder mystery, this intriguing, deeply felt first novel about two orphans and their abusive guardian is surprisingly hard to put down. In 1962, Con and her baby brother Lordie are vacationing in the mountains of Germany with their parents, who go off to gather mushrooms and fall to their deaths. Blurred memories follow, of the childrens' awful experiences: time in a German orphanage; eventual adoption by their hippie-like Aunt Cherry; wanderings through Europe and the States. Cherry herself, a slovenly woman of no means, has a succession of terrible boyfriends and a fierce temper, particularly when she is drunk. She inflicts heavy physical punishment on both children, injuring Con so badly that she nearly dies. Con's questions about her parents' estate and her growing worries about her deeply antisocial little brother are the primary concerns of this narrative, which flashes back and forth between the past and the present, as Lordie is charged by police with murdering his aunt. The tale's grim, remote quality may leave some readers nonplussed, but Maristed skillfully summons a child's-eye view of the world, and the real shock this novel provides is a shock of recognition at the universal emotions it summons.
Orphaned five-year-old Con and her three-year-old brother, Lordie, are given into the custody of their father's 18-year-old sister, Cherry. With no other family and limited job skills, Cherry is unable to make life work for them all. Drifting from job to job, man to man, Cherry sinks into drink, poverty, and increasing physical abuse. Forced to help each other grow up, Con and Lordie develop a secret language and inner world of make-believe. Maristed vividly portrays this increasing dysfunction through the children's eyes as a flashback within the framework of one final fatal weekend.