Recommendation: Marlena, by Julie Buntin

I just finished reading Julie Buntin’s Marlena.

The novel tells the story of Cat and a dark bond she shared with her friend, Marlena, when they were high schoolers in Minnesota. As an adult living a swank life in New York City, Cat thinks she’s left it all behind—until one day, someone from their shared past asks to meet. As those unsettling months resurface, Cat learns that, thankfully, it really is true that you can’t go home again—but sometimes, just remembering is bad enough.

Oddly, the reason I found this book was because I was working on a short story, and I needed a novel that my main character could read that would contribute to my piece’s single effect. My plan was just to grab a title that’d make sense, but I popped open the Amazon preview and was sucked right in (I know this book has been listed for prizes and has also been named Book of the Year in several media outlets, but honestly, I don’t go by that. Suck me in and keep me there. That’s the only thing, for me, that counts).

Marlena flows beautifully, the characters are exquisitely rendered in unforgettable brush-strokes, and the language is poetic; lines such as “I focused on Marlena’s arm instead of the black habits I could see floating in the unlit places between us” and “full of body cream that smelled like a million flowers slamming into each other” are simple, but say so much and leave a strong impression. The pacing is taut, and there are plenty of not only thought-provoking, but universal, truths. There are so many places in this book in which I saw myself, moments I just wanted to scream, ‘oh my God, I know exactly what you mean!’

If you’re a writer who likes to “study” what you read, there’s a lot of solid technique here. If you’re a writer or reader and you like first-person narratives that uncover dark truths about life, love, and what it means to wrestle with a tortured past, this is immersive and enjoyable.

You can get it anywhere, but for ease and a preview, the Amazon link is here.

About kristipetersenschoonover

A ghost story writer who still sleeps with the lights on, Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies; her traditionally published books include a short story collection, THE SHADOWS BEHIND. She was the recipient of three Norman Mailer Writers Colony Residencies and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She serves as co-host of the DARK DISCUSSIONS podcast, as founding editor of the dark literary journal 34 ORCHARD, and is a member of both the New England Horror Writers and the Horror Writers Association. Follow her adventures at

Posted on April 12, 2021, in Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Oo, high praise! I added Marlena to my TBR.:-)

    • I LOVE this book. I saw a few on your last quarterly review I was interested in, too. I have to go back and add them to my list–I’m in the process of going through all of my books and making a new to-read pile. I have so many I’ve not gotten to yet!

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