In Ligatures by Sara Rich, Stanza’s life is unexpectedly turned upside down when her husband is killed in a bicycle accident. She moves out of their apartment in Belgium to the loneliness of her old hometown in rural Kansas. Although her father lives close, and she runs into some familiar faces at the university where she teaches, her days are rather solitary. Her only companion is her dog. She is an outcast. Her ideas conflict with the local religious community, and the lessons she teaches in her History of Western Religion course are controversial.
Stanza’s life takes on a strange new purpose when she comes upon a carving in the woods. She recognizes it as a symbol of Ozark magic and understands its promise to kill a witch. Her research into its significance leads to dark discoveries about her own history and eerie threats concerning her future.
Rich brings a wealth of religious knowledge to this novel. Stanza’s university lectures are fascinating to read and the plotline is intriguing with mythology, religion and witchcraft woven throughout. The novel proves to be both grounded and mystical as Rich uses facts and supernatural elements to tell her story. There is depth throughout the book, and tension that builds steadily to keep readers turning the pages. The setting is vivid and alive because of Rich’s elegant writing style. The first line of the novel reads: “The trees had an air of blushing, as if they’d been caught in the act of changing.”
The only critique to note is Rich’s use of coincidences in an attempt to pull things together. Given the complexity of the topic, it might be difficult for Stanza to make her discoveries without some luck—being in the right place at the right time, or meeting the right person who happens to share her obscure knowledge. It is understandable that coincidences can occur, but there were a few too many. Fortunately it doesn’t really take away from Rich’s otherwise impressive storytelling.
Ligatures is for readers who appreciate beautiful language and enjoy a story that both entertains and stimulates thought. It is on the dark side, and is not a simple “feel good” read. Instead, it is a novel with depth and complexity and power. Sara Rich is absolutely an author to watch.