The Secrets Of Chicory Lane by Raymond Benson
Sixty-one-year-old Shelby Truman, a romance novelist, has received a request to visit her childhood friend, Eddie, who is on Death Row. Though mentally ill, Eddie is scheduled to be executed for the disturbing, brutal murders of his wife and unborn child.
As Shelby travels home to Texas for the unnerving reunion, she steps back into memories of her past, recalling her five-decade-long relationship with Eddie in order to understand what led the beautiful but troubled boy who lived across the street to become a murderer. Shelby and Eddie used to visit an abandoned fallout shelter in his backyard, their “secret hiding place” where they could escape Eddie’s abusive father, enjoy innocent playtime, and, later, adolescent explorations. As they grow increasingly close, a tragedy occurs one July fourth, an event that sets in motion a lifelong struggle against an Evil—with a capital “E”—that has corrupted their all-American neighborhood.
With only a few days left for Eddie to live, Shelby braces herself for a reunion that promises to shed light on the traumatic events that transpired on her street, changing everything Shelby thought she knew about the boy on Chicory Lane.
This novel lost me hours of sleep! I became engrossed in Shelby and Eddie’s past. Which resulted in not getting to sleep until 4am, which is quite a stretch even for me!
The story is just so brilliantly written, that you can’t finish one chapter without reading the next three and so on and so forth.
When I did eventually finish the novel, I was wide awake and consumed by the intricate storyline and what I had just discovered about Eddie.
*If you are going to read this novel, I would advise picking a morning hour. Especially if you value your sleep.
The synopsis is very intriguing and straight away I wanted to learn about Shelby as a writer and as Eddies childhood best friend. I was desperate to unravel Eddie’s past and couldn’t read the pages quick enough.
What I read, was one of the most powerful novels!
This novel was my 75th book of the year so far and the 8th on my list of favourites of 2018. It really is THAT good!
The opening offers a glimpse into the world of a bestselling author and I loved that the protagonist Shelby was a writer by profession. She receives a letter via overnight mail from Limite, Texas. She knows from the envelope that it is from Eddie’s attorney Robert Crane Esq. She is instantly curious as to where this will lead. She has not seen Eddie in 20yrs and her previous attempts to help with his court case, were declined.
‘The thing is, I’ve always thought about Eddie. We go way, way back, to when we were children living in Limite’
Now here is where the novel hooked me! Eddie is an incarnated inmate on death row. He is imprisoned for a violent and heinous crime. A crime Shelby KNOWS, he committed. Shelby comes across as a rational, educated and mentally sound woman. So why does she care? What friendship from the past, could tie you to such a person?
I didn’t find this novel to be of any form a psychological thriller and by that, I mean that I never thought Shelby was misleading me or leading me into a huge twist.
‘Why the hell does Eddie want to talk to me?’
We learn that Eddie’s lawyer has exhausted all attempts to appeal and that Eddie is scheduled to be executed, in just four days. Shelby is actually already pre-arranged to be in the area for a park dedication. She agrees to meet with Eddie prior to his execution. So, begins an emotional rollercoaster of a journey.
As Shelby makes her way to the town of Limite, is also where she internally recalls her childhood with Eddie. This becomes the narration for the novel. It is beautifully written but is also haunting. After I finished the novel, I felt emotionally drained and will admit I shed a little tear.
Shelby narrates her story on Chicory Lane and what took place in the summer of 1966. A summer Shelby would come to learn the true depths of human pain and the parental blame game.
‘I truly believe that evil – with a capital “E” – visited my neighbourhood that summer of 1966. It slithered inside at least three houses that I know of, and set about destroying lives and delivering misery’
The unique bond and life long connection between Eddie and Shelby is played out over various eras. The 60s, 70s and 90s all add depth to the story. The social and moral ‘norms’ are relevant to the theme and plot. At times the innocence of childhood is beautiful to read. But the vulnerability to abuse both physical and psychological lingers over the children’s path into adulthood. This may have a ‘coming of age’ feel at times, but it takes a very dark turn. . .
‘We all knew that Eddie was guilty of murdering the woman he was living with at the time’
The nature of Eddies crime is horrifying. This is not a crime of passion or an accident. But when you begin to understand Eddie as a child, adolescent and young man. You see that there were early warning signs of a broken mind. During the trial Eddie is hailed as ‘Evil Eddie’ in the headlines. This is a town that has demonised, the once ostracised little boy. At the time of the murder Eddie is thought to have been off his meds. During the sentencing at court Eddie curses the jury with a satanic spell.
This is NOT your average case!
Eddies lawyer reports that Eddie has always refused medical and psychiatric help from staff within death row. That he suffers from depression and anxiety and has retreated into his own world. Shelby organises a potential 4hr visit. But will Eddie talk to her? Will what he says make any sense, after years of solitary confinement?
We learn that as a child Eddie was cute, introverted and a keen art student. He is regarded as ‘weird’ by his peers and his only friend in the world is Shelby. Their young friendship blossoms into childhood love. I began to wonder if this was the only love Eddie had ever truly known? Did Shelby’s eventually rejection push him over the edge. What lead Eddie to commit the crime that shocked the world. . .
‘Evil Eddie made a statement for all the world to see’
Eddie grew into an eccentric young man. An outcast, a bad boy and a school dropout. Eventually he signs up to a career in the military, where he is swiftly sent to Vietnam. The relationship between Shelby and Eddie is on and off throughout the years. In one sense she watches Eddie struggle more and more with each growing year. She believes his service in Vietnam was a tipping point.
‘The experience pushed him further into darkness, and he came home a changed young man’
Despite the struggles Eddie has faced, with his family, friendships and social quirks. Shelby still insists the answers lay within Eddies psychology.
‘Eddie could not have been in his right mind when it happened’
Eddies mother was sickly during his childhood, his father was a bully and would regularly beat Eddie for minor infractions. The only person to show Eddie kindness in the neighbourhood, other than Shelby was Mr Alpine. Eddie would often venture to his residence alone. Mr Alpine is thought of as a local celebrity to the kids, as his brother is the towns major.
What I wanted to know was why does Shelby refer to him as a monster?
After the death of Shelby’s brother. Shelby is blamed by her mother who struggles with alcohol and prescription drug abuse all Shelby’s adult life. Suddenly both of them find their fundamental relationships flawed. What does this mean for their future.
‘In many ways, both our mothers were similarly damaged’
The novel has some strong themes of mental illness. But it also covers the other various social situations that contribute to a decline in one’s own sanity. Imagine being the most hated and talked about resident on your street. Imagine every neighbour knowing your past, and the fact that your own father couldn’t stand the sight of you. Being mocked and ridiculed by the local children and knowing that no one truly cares.
Except Shelby Truman.
A powerful novel of childhood trauma seeping into an adult’s psychology. Shelby’s patience and understanding towards Eddie is true kindness and unconditional love. I wish more people in society, thought a little more like Shelby, than adapt a bullying/shunning culture labelling a person a weirdo and invalidating their life experiences.
Tremendously moving. 5* Genius