Review: The Removed by Brandon Hobson

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Synopsis:

Steeped in Cherokee myths and history, a novel about a fractured family reckoning with the tragic death of their son long ago—from National Book Award finalist Brandon Hobson

In the fifteen years since their teenage son, Ray-Ray, was killed in a police shooting, the Echota family has been suspended in private grief. The mother, Maria, increasingly struggles to manage the onset of Alzheimer’s in her husband, Ernest. Their adult daughter, Sonja, leads a life of solitude, punctuated only by spells of dizzying romantic obsession. And their son, Edgar, fled home long ago, turning to drugs to mute his feelings of alienation.

With the family’s annual bonfire approaching—an occasion marking both the Cherokee National Holiday and Ray-Ray’s death, and a rare moment in which they openly talk about his memory—Maria attempts to call the family together from their physical and emotional distances once more. But as the bonfire draws near, each of them feels a strange blurring of the boundary between normal life and the spirit world. Maria and Ernest take in a foster child who seems to almost miraculously keep Ernest’s mental fog at bay. Sonja becomes dangerously fixated on a man named Vin, despite—or perhaps because of—his ties to tragedy in her lifetime and lifetimes before. And in the wake of a suicide attempt, Edgar finds himself in the mysterious Darkening Land: a place between the living and the dead, where old atrocities echo.

Drawing deeply on Cherokee folklore, The Removed seamlessly blends the real and spiritual to excavate the deep reverberations of trauma—a meditation on family, grief, home, and the power of stories on both a personal and ancestral level.

Review:

The Removed centers around tragedy, loss, grief, and the horrible things people to to one another. The Echota family has splintered over the years. Maria is trying to help the community while taking care of her husband who is slowly slipping into the throes of Alzheimer’s, her son Edgar is an addict who has not talked to them after an intervention, her daughter lives down the road and has been following the man who happens to be the son of the police officer who shot and killed her brother Ray-Ray fifteen years ago. Every year the family gathers to have a bonfire in honor of Ray-Ray’s death, but this year, based on how disconnected everyone is, it might not happen.

Filled with Cherokee folklore and tradition, The Removed is a sad, tragic, and gorgeous book. At first, I did not know what to think of it because I really was not connecting with the characters and the story. This started like so many other books about a tragedy happening to a family and we get to see the grief that never goes away. When Wyatt, a boy that Maria and Ernest are giving a temporary foster home for a few days while waiting for a family court hearing, things start to change and come clear. The book is about grief but it is also about the afterlife, spirits guiding you through life based on Cherokee myths, some true and some imagined. The whole novel becomes a spiritual journey for all of the characters. A few of the things start to make more sense. Wyatt’s positive connection to everyone is because he is more that what he seems. Edgar living with a “friend” Jackson in a place that is gray and desolate, a town filled with people who were drug addicts until they got here, might be a town in which everyone has overdosed. In some parts the vagueness lets us draw our own conclusions, but we are strongly guided by the narrative, and by Tsala, the final character in this family, the guide who died during the Trail of Tears but is still trying to help his people. 

The novel becomes more interesting and gorgeous as it goes. I love the ideas that The Removed brings, and there are some parts that are gripping and heartbreaking. There are other parts that really don’t do as well. The Sonja story kind of peters out toward the end, and I think her story is the weakest and the least tied into the rest of the things the family is going through. Overall, I like the family, I like the story, I like the Cherokee myths. I like the blurring between life and the afterlife, present and past, because there are not many differences between the two.

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