The Raised by Allen Renfro is one hell of a book. I really struggled with it at first. I struggled to figure out: Who was narrating? Where and when was it set? What was all the tension? Why did I feel so damn itchy and uncomfortable when I read it?
I picked the book up, read for a bit, put it down in…..frustration I suppose. There were so many questions presented in the first few pages. So many threads. Then Renfro started weaving a truly fantastic tale from the seemingly random elements. Essentially, Allen makes a clean and flawless tapestry of a novel from those scraggy threads.
I suppose that with the last few busy years of being a new father spent squeezing in and reading unchallenging escapist type novels I’d grown used to formulaic, easy to read, spoon fed, unimaginative and derivative stories. Allen Renfro’s novel is none of these things. Allen unfolds a wonderfully textured story with all the skill and confidence of a seasoned novelist in the mould of Anne Rice. It seems effortless to the man.
In The Raised we are introduced to one of the most truly fucked-up families in fiction who lie, manipulate, murder and abuse each other throughout the book. The story is told over years and through the viewpoint of several central characters, each impressing their own reactions to and interpretation of shared events. Depsite viewing this converging story from different characters’ POV and from different points in time, the story is never repetitive. Quite a feat when using this sort of mechanism.
Allen is a word-artist. He paints vivid and beautiful scenes with letters splashed on the page with seeming ease, but also with intent and precision. Whilst he describes scenes, settings, rooms and people with great accuracy and feeling, he never labours the point. Some writers have you skipping long monologues when trying to be descriptive. Renfro has such skill (the bastard) that he simply transports you right there to stand shoulder to shoulder with his protagonists.
The real strength that Allen Renfro possesses is in his understanding of and empathy with people and in his ability to convey these complex emotions to the reader. He deals with many complex relationships between his characters with ease, gradually making us hate/love/fear/pity these very real-feeling people. Allen has immense insight into the inner workings of what makes humans tick and an understanding of peoples’ emotions that only someone who had suffered, loved, or lost in some way would be able to identify and convey in the manner he does. In an age of two-dimensional characters littered throughout the literary, and movie media, Allen gives us properly human characters. Ones with many conflicting sides to them, who aren’t perfect, pouting demigods but truly flawed.
This type of book is really not in my usual genre, but on this occaission I was deeply relieved to take the detour and discover that an obviously lovely man is also such a gifted writer.