Long Black Veil
By Jennifer Finney Boylan
Long Black Veil is the story of Judith Carrigan, whose past is dredged up when the body of her college friend Wailer is discovered 20 years after her disappearance in Philadelphia’s notorious and abandoned Eastern State Penitentiary. Judith is the only witness who can testify to the innocence of her friend Casey, who had married Wailer only days before her death.
The only problem is that on that fateful night at the prison, Judith was a very different person from the woman she is today. In order to defend her old friend and uncover the truth of Wailer’s death, Judith must confront long-held and hard-won secrets that could cause her to lose the idyllic life she’s built for herself and her family.
Long Black Veil is rather unique in what it brings to the table. What essentially begins a mystery centered around the loss of a friend develops into a detailed exploration of the lives of Judith and 4 other individuals forever connected by their past.
“You carry the past with you. Even if there’s a before, and an after, in your life. It’s still the same life. The trick is to build a bridge between that and what comes later.”
20 years ago Judith and 5 other college friends decided to visit Eastern State Penitentiary. Only 5 of them would ever leave. It was a day that would forever alter the course of their lives. Now events from that tragic day have resurfaced, and Judith finds that she must return to face a past she left far behind or a friend may be charged with a heinous crime he did not commit. But returning also means possibly sacrificing everything that she values in life.
I hesitate to label Long Black Veil as a mystery. There is an unsolved disappearance at the core of the story, but this is a beautiful examination of characterization and life. Through an eccentric ensemble of cast, we are exposed to the trials of Judith’s journey into self acceptance and happiness. Judith is a refreshing protagonist the contributes many valuable and attractive variables that solidified the success of this story for me. It is unfortunately impossible to discuss the heart of what makes her so profound and fascinating without spoiling the book’s most rewarding and surprising facet.
“I think it’s very human, the hope that an all-encompassing love will change us into someone else, someone better. That this hope usually turns out to be false makes it no less human; the world is full of hopes far more unlikely than being transformed by love.”
While the setting is credible, this a character driven novel that relies heavily on the thoughts and actions of each individual in order to tell a complex story. The narration shifts from past to present and frequently passes between characters. But each transition is clean and easily defined, creating a fluid experience. However, I find it fair to warn that due to the larger number of individuals involved, I found it took several chapters to acclimate myself. But once I did, it was impossible to put Long Black Veil down. This is the sort of book that beckons you to turn the light back on and read one more chapter.
Boylan’s writing is elegant and immersive. Her words carry you effortlessly through each page, creating a hauntingly lavish experience with a welcomed element of diversity that begs to be devoured. I have read reviews of those who flaws with the author’s approach to certain topics, but I cannot be counted among them, nor do I recommend reading them before approaching the book. I am enthusiastically recommending Long Black Veil to anyone who seeks an engaging and personal reading experience.
*I would like to thank Crown Publishing and Blogging for Books for supplying this copy in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.