Delving into trouble—that is Tess Cross' specialty. And taking it with her wherever she goes. In "Red Lightning," Tess comes crawling back home to NoWhere, Colorado after ten years of what she hoped would be high living. But running illegal Mexican immigrants deep into Colorado, along with the drugs they must carry, has finally scoured her out. Men have disappointed her. She's seen terrible things in the desert. She is flat broke. Tess has no more games to run when her beat up body drops down into the shade across the street from her daughter's schoolyard. The daughter she abandoned as a baby into the arms of her sister Libby.
In the opening scene of this searing novel, Libby sees Tess waiting to speak to her, battered and mostly broken. But since author Laura Pritchett places the novel's narration inside the mind of Tess, it is her desperate, selfish, imaginative, emotional perspective that makes as big a tale as the possible reunion here. How does a black sheep think/feel/justify/legitimize her terrible behavior? Step right up and let Tess tell you. It's a daring, dynamic ride.
We first met these characters in Laura Pritchett's compelling novel "Sky Bridge." We saw teenaged Tess drive away laughing. We loved her older sister Libby for picking up Tess' baby and trying to make things right. "Red Lightning" takes up their story ten years later with the emotional force of a freight train. The novel really is that engaging. I found it impossible to read anything else for three days. It does not flinch from rendering up Tess' tangled insides. You may flinch but the novel does not.
It is hard to know what to say about that kind of emotional truth telling. The novel maps the terrain of reactivity, of conflict and longing and loss. What drives Tess in the end—well, you'll have to read the book to know. Beneath the struggle and flight patterns and irresponsibility and anguish and "bringing all this holyhell here"—beneath that and within all that, Tess Cross comes home.
If you've ever watched a black sheep tear a family apart and wondered about her point of view, this novel is for you. Pritchett is a brave writer. With a poet's heart. Her generosity in life and on the page continue to amaze and inspire me.