337 follows the life of Samuel Darte whose mother vanished when he was in his teens. It was his brother, Tom who found her wedding ring on the kitchen table along with the note.
While their father pays the price of his mother’s disappearance, Sam learns that his long-estranged Gramma is living out her last days in a nursing home nearby.
Keen to learn about what really happened that day and realising the importance of how little time there is, he visits her to finally get the truth.
Soon it’ll be too late, and the family secrets will be lost forever. Reduced to ashes. But in a story like this, nothing is as it seems.
337 follows Sam Darte, now in his thirties and living alone in what was his childhood home. He’s an unfortunate character and one that it is easy to sympathise with. His mother vanished when he was a teenager, and his father is in prison having been arrested for her murder. Despite the twenty or so years that have passed since then, it’s clear from the outset that he is still deeply affected by those events, and that he hasn’t yet come to terms with them or been able to move on. Discovering that his grandmother, from whom he has been estranged for some time, is seeing out her final days in a nearby care home, he goes to see her, determined to discover what happened to his mother once and for all.
337 captures the monotony of everyday life perfectly. Sam is haunted, figuratively speaking, by his mother, and spends many nights trying and failing to sleep. There is a superb passage where, on the edge of sleep, Sam’s brain begins to turn over the events of the day, reviewing and processing what happened, what was said, and what it all means. We’ve all been there, and it’s such a relatable passage that I’d laugh had I myself not been there so often recently. Sam works from home (again, so familiar right now) his days spent trying to avoid talking in meetings and watching the clock on his computer tick down the hours he still has to work that week. It’s a humdrum existence that I think many can relate to.
Sam’s relationships are strained, which is entirely understandable given his past. He’s separated from his wife, with whom things just didn’t work out. He sees his brother as a drunken, drugged up layabout who hasn’t yet let go of a childish dream of being in a band. His relationship with his father is strained. I don’t think Sam’s visited him, and yet his father – a controlling, unsympathetic man who expects men to be men – still has some hold over Sam, despite his incarceration. Sam is, as I’ve mentioned, estranged from his grandmother, for reasons that only become clear later in the novel. Of course, as we meet some of those individuals in the novel, we see how Sam’s perceptions are skewed. This is particularly true in the case of his brother, Tom, who does like a drink and yet is on the verge of making his breakthrough in the world of music. And here lies one of the principles of the novel – nothing is quite as it seems, and for me it seemed that it was Sam, rather than Tom, who was wasting his time.
As Sam begins to visit his grandmother, we learn a little more about the family, and she challenges his views on the things he remembers. I love the way in which the fallibility of memory is explored throughout the novel – Sam has things that he would swear to, and yet it’s clear that there are incidents that, seen from a different point of view, aren’t quite as Sam remembers them. Despite their estrangement, Sam and his grandmother soon begin to bond, and her deterioration hits him hard as the novel progresses. While some of these moments can be a little hard to read, I thought that Lee handled those scenes with great sensitivity.
Overlaying all of this is the question of what happened to his mother all those years ago. It’s clear that there are differing views, despite the arrest of Sam’s father. Sam has copies of the witness statements etc. from the investigation and goes through all of these over the course of the novel, allowing the reader the opportunity to play detective for a little while. Does it seem as though Sam’s father was pursued a little unfairly? Maybe, and yet his actions do seem a little damning, and it’s clear that their home life wasn’t pleasant, even while his mother was present.
The novel is cleverly written and manages to hold on to its secrets until the very last page, revealing all in the final sentence. I love it when a novel is packaged in such a way as to reflect its contents, and Hideaway Fall have outdone themselves in this regard. The book has two equally striking covers, and the UK hard copy can be started from either the back or the front – how you determine which is which I’ll leave up to you. Please note the double-ended upside-down opening for this book is available in books ordered in hard copy from UK booksellers only.
337 will be published on 30 November by Hideaway Fall. Many thanks to the publisher for the opportunity to read and review 337 head of publication.
Also by M. Jonathan Lee: