For Marsden, the main character in Elsie Chapman’s Along the Indigo, “the covert” is her birthright, her burden, and the only source of hope in a life battered by circumstance. The covert is an overgrown thicket, fenced off from the rest of the town of Glory, that has developed a reputation as a hallowed suicide ground.
The land belongs to Marsden’s family and she patrols it daily, stealing from the bodies before she reports their discovery to the police. Marsden sees the money as the only way she can escape the bed and breakfast where her mother works as a prostitute. It’s the only way to keep her younger sister, Wynn, from slipping into sex work as well.
When Jude arrives in the covert shortly after his brother’s suicide, Marsden’s life is further complicated. As they’re getting to know each other, the painful secrets of their respective pasts converge. But Jude remains a shard of light in the darkness of Marsden’s life, even if she doesn’t believe anything good can last.
Along the Indigo is a well-crafted balancing act, subtle and daring in the same moment. Tonally, it shifts between contemporary adolescent jargon and the language of the Gothic; the world of Along the Indigo is one of ghosts and memories, of family myths and community lies, of betrayal and the fierce bond of family. It’s a haunted book, in the best sense.
Marsden is a stunning protagonist rooted in depths of contradiction and difficulty. Her journey from desperation to a glimmer of hope is powerful. The entire cast of characters, from teenage friends to the women who work in the bed and breakfast, is given vivid life; this verisimilitude also contributes an element of selfishness and cruelty in certain characters that rings uncomfortably true. They’re easy to root against (and recoil from), but Chapman never treats her villains as caricatures: in Along the Indigo, the pain and darkness is real and vividly captured.