Not Your Grandma’s Debut Novel

February 26 2014

Sometimes a book grabs you by the hair and drags you through its pages. Stacking in Rivertown by Barbara Bell is one of those books. I read it thirteen years ago upon its release, and I’ve never forgotten it.

This is the story of Beth, once a teen-age runaway, and now a married woman, just finding her success as a novelist. Beth’s novel, based on her abusive upbringing, awards her a cult following, and her fans’ response to her subject matter triggers long-forgotten recollections of being involved in a brutal prostitution ring and the horrors she and the other victims endured at the hands of their sadistic pimp.

When Beth again encounters her pimp, her psyche and traumatic childhood are vividly explored in such poetic prose, and with such fierce clarity, that I felt physically-pained reading some of the passages. Reading Beth’s memory of being bound and locked inside a box made me, a claustrophobic, feel suffocated.

Like Beth’s own novel, Stacking in Rivertown has become a cult-favorite. It can be hard for a publisher to place a book like this – a heavy read dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, sex, torture, and violence, and begging the question, “Just how much of this novel is fiction?” Perhaps that is why it wasn’t more widely-marketed. Although it’s not a light and happy read, if you, like me, relish deftly-crafted books that evoke intense emotions, I suggest you get yourself a copy.

With lessons in survival, the depths of pain (and love), and exploration of how far deep inside one needs to go to be free of one’s demons, Stacking In Rivertown captured me from the first page. A truly stunning debut by the multi-talented Barbara Bell (she’s also a poet, composer and film-maker). I so wish she would write another.

Stacking in Rivertown
Barbara Bell

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