Book Review: Sugar Run

Queer love and resilience in the face of broken dreams

The first thing I notice when I started Sugar Run, a 2019 novel by Mesha Maren, is the imagery. The novel begins in a prison, but the colors are remarkably vivid from the start: yellow hallways, silver handcuffs, blue jeans. The prose is hauntingly beautiful, filled with longing and loss and memories of a past that can never be again.

The story unfolds from there. Jodi, a woman in her mid-thirties, is released from a life sentence in prison by a miracle of the law. With vague circumstances surrounding her incarceration, it is not until much later in the book that we learn why she was imprisoned in the first place. She meets and falls in love with Miranda Golden, a young mother of three sons and the wife of a well-known singer.

Jodi heads back home to West Virginia along with Miranda, Miranda’s children, and the brother of Jodi’s dead ex-girlfriend in search of a future that she dreamed of once, long ago. This story, in the present, is interspersed with chapters from the past — another road trip, this one with her first love, Paula, when she was seventeen and thought she was invincible.

At its heart, Sugar Run is a novel about love and loss, family and friends, past and present, and the conflict between the two. The West Virginia that Jodi returns to is not the one she left behind as a teenager, the one she dreamed of returning to during all those long years in prison. Reality can shatter your dreams, this book tells us. But it can also bring hope. This is not a forgettable story.

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