The good citizens of Romley have spoken of Selena Highland in hushed rumors and innuendos for years. But the children of the town know her better. They flock to her, sitting with her and taking turns telling tales to entertain her. But still, there is something wrong at Highland House. Secrets and madness cling to its walls.
Where The Ironweed Blooms sets a leisurely pace, drawing the reader deeper and deeper into the life of Jeremiah Sims. The bulk of the story follows him as he grows from one of the children drawn to Selena, to a young man in her employ and the keeper of Highland House’s secrets. Jeremiah is vividly drawn; his curiosity about, and love for, Selena is his defining characteristic but the author shows various to her sides to him. His kindness, jealousy, fears; all are given their moments and all add to creating a real and well-rounded character.
The most impressive thing about this novel is its descriptiveness. The author brings the setting alive; with sights, sounds and smells all combining to paint a sensory image of Highland House and its surroundings. The depiction of small town life is also given great treatment. There are petty jealousies, gossip and rumor-mongering, and the sense that everyone knows (or thinks they know) everyone else’s business. But there are also kindnesses and loss. Nothing seems one note.
There are some sections when the story moves away from Jeremiah, but rather than feel the loss of the main character, it helps to deepen the others. Best are the reminiscences of the initially unnamed narrator, looking back on the events of the main story. These, especially, add a sense of unease about Highland House which only grows as the novel progresses.
I did enjoy this book and would certainly read more of this author’s work. I will admit that I did find it a little slow going at first, but perseverance does get rewarded. I read the final half of the book in the space of a couple of hours, having been pulled into the story.