Originally published June 2019
So my daughter is headed off to college in the fall. With that in mind, a hearty “Thank you!” to author Molly Dektar for reminding me to include the “Don’t run off and join a cult” lesson in our summer pre-university conversations.
“The Ash Family” is an extremely well-written debut from Dektar — a fictional (God, I hope it’s entirely fiction) account of life on a “farm,” with the protagonist, Berie/Harmony at the center of the plot. Berie was on her way to freshman year, when, for reasons not entirely known to the reader, she takes a wrong turn with who she thinks is the right guy — Bay, a member of the Ash Family that recruits new members to join he and his collective off the grid in the mountains of North Carolina.
Now, to a logical, well-balanced, emotional healthy person, three days at this joint and you’d quickly realize the inhabitants at the Farm are whack. The leader, Dice, is drawn to resemble cult leaders closely enough that you quickly recognize him for what he is — a complete slimeball. But to those, perhaps like Berie, looking for the acceptance they can’t already access or at least recognize within their own family unit, the Farm is a haven. Because, of course. Everyone is universally accepted because there is no “I.” No sense of one. Rather, a sense of none.
Berie becomes Harmony as she struggles to adapt to her new world, even though she’s intent on bringing some sense of relational normalcy to it. She wants Bay and she wants Bay to want her. Just her. And you know, cults aren’t really down with the concept of not sharing. The longer Harmony stays, the more she learns from other family members about the Ash family’s past, its present and its future. And her role in it.
The Ash Family is not a nice cult. At all. There are more than a handful of disturbing scenes, so read at your own risk. In fact, the more I dwell on the storyline, the darker it becomes. Still, I was drawn in and couldn’t put the book down. Would Harmony come to her senses? Would her mother find her? Could Dice maintain control? The first half of the book moved a bit slower than the second, where the pace quickens and action intensifies.
If you read and enjoyed “The History of Wolves,” this almost reads like a companion piece. You’ll toss and turn the story in your head trying to parse exactly what makes Harmony do what she does. Definitely not a light-hearted pick, but great for a book club brawl.