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by Tom Robb Smith
Grand Central Publishing, June 2014
352 pages
ISBN: 0446550736

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

THE FARM opens "Until that phone call it had been an ordinary day." In fact, until the phone call from his father, Daniel had been living a very prosaic life. Even his hidden relationship with Mark, his lover, was based in large part on Daniel's ability to avoid conflict and court serenity. But with the phone call, Daniel discovers that the even-keeled childhood he experienced was all a sham. He finds himself caught between his father's insistence that his mother is an escaped lunatic and his mother's insistence that his father is part of a criminal ring. Almost all the rest of the book is built upon a potentially unreliable narrative presented by Daniel's mother, as his father attempts to track Daniel and his mum down.

Since his mum and dad moved to rural Sweden, his mum's original home, Daniel has had little communication with them. This has served his parents well, as they have been withholding their financial straits from him, and it has served him well as he has not found a way to come out to his parents. Mum's return to Sweden brought back memories from her childhood and early adolescence there, however, and contemporary events have mirrored those memories. Has Mum gone mad because of the circumstances, or are her accusations of Dad's involvement in a conspiracy accurate? As the book progresses, Daniel (along with the reader) is unsure. However, Smith does a tremendous job of smoothly transitioning from confusion to clarity by the end of the book. None of this is done through sleight of hand; rather, the interstices in the stories both Mum and Dad tell leave space for the reality to shine through.

Smith brings to life a rough rural Sweden where trolls still make sense and men still have all the power. The woods seem almost alive, and it isn't beyond the realm of possibility that a family could provide for itself by farming, fishing, and hunting. In this setting, it's not hard to believe that the men would conspire to protect a dark secret or that a woman might go mad. Smith's scene setting makes the conflict that Daniel experiences, caught between his parents, entirely believable. The main characters are deeply and realistically complex. Some of the secondary characters, especially Daniel's lover Mark, are less well developed. But THE FARM is such a psychological thriller that living inside Mum's head, or Daniel's, is far more important than understanding the more ancillary characters.

I read this book in one sitting, and I think it might be hard to dip into and out of the narrative. THE FARM is a book that just begs the reader to keep going. The psychological narrative keeps one engaged, and the mostly short "chapters" propel the reader forward. Dinner waited, as I couldn't put the book down at the end.

Sharon Mensing is the Head of School of Emerald Mountain School, an independent school in the mountains of Colorado, where she lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, June 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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