West Virginia author Mesha Maren’s debut novel “Sugar Run” is set in a fictional version of Greenbrier County. Maren is from Alderson and currently splits her time between North Carolina and West Virginia.
“Sugar Run” tells the story of a woman named Jodi McCarty. The story begins as she is being released from prison. She wants to head back to where she grew up in southern West Virginia, to live on land owned by her grandmother. But before she does that, she wants to make good on a promise she made before prison.
The book has received dozens of glowing reviews, including a review in the New York Times book section.
“It really broke my brain that Charles Frazier wrote a review for The New York Times to be totally honest with you,” Maren said.
She said she began crying when she read Frazier’s review in a grocery store where she went to buy the Sunday paper.
“That was way more than I expected and just shocking in a really great way,” she said.
Frazier’s review described “Sugar Run” as “Southern Noir.” Maren said when she saw that, she wasn’t exactly sure what “noir” meant and had to look it up.
“I mean, I'd heard of noir before and I thought about noir movies and I'd heard of noir books, but I realized all of a sudden that I didn't actually totally know what that meant,” she said.
Maren explained that noir fiction often features a protagonist who is a little bit of an antihero with the odds stacked against them. The character may be a bit morally dubious, but they're trying to make their way through a world that's throwing up all kinds of problems along the way. She explained that noir fiction often does not resolve itself in a tidy bow at the end of the story, either.
“When I heard that definition, I thought ‘that makes a lot of sense.’ There are a lot of those aspects in my book, but I didn't really I didn't do it on purpose. I didn't think about that genre of books when I was writing it,” she said.
Maren is currently working on her next novel, called “Perpetual West.”
“My new my new novel has a totally different set of characters and it takes place in West Virginia and in Texas on the border with Mexico,” she said. Maren said it does use some of the same themes as “Sugar Run,” however, like home and identity.
This interview is part of a series of occasional interviews with Eric Douglas. He is our in-house author and talks to writers from or writing about Appalachia. You can find more of these interviews here.