Lying Beneath the Oaks has all the strange charm of a Lifetime movie


Kristin Wright’s first novel, Lying Beneath the Oaks piles up the tropes of a made-for-TV movie, then spins them into something oddly compelling.

Before we get any further, Lying Beneath the Oaks should come with a trigger warning for plot discussions of potential sexual assault, what appears to be compelled sexual assault, and childhood abuse. Though the story doesn’t directly hinge on these plot points, they do come into significant play in backstories in particular, and that might make it hard for some readers.

With that all said, here’s what the story is about. Molly Todd and Cooper Middleton come from two different worlds, but despite all that, they get married in Las Vegas. Cooper brings her home to South Carolina before she can tell him anything about who she is — or what she’s done — only for her to find that Cooper’s family has some secrets of its own.

So yes, you have something like love-at-first-sight, family secrets, a dose of Southern Gothic, a little death, something like romance, and more. Now you see why this book reminds this writer of a made-for-TV film. On top of that, Lying Beneath the Oaks is quite short — less than 300 pages, meaning that depending on how quickly you read, you might very well be done with it in about the same time it takes to actually watch one of the movies we’re referring to.

Yet, like those same movies — or even like current binge favorites like You on Netflix — there’s an odd charm about it, even in that ridiculousness. Wright’s author biography notes that she’s an attorney, and there’s a level of detail discussing Molly’s circumstances as well as the other strange things about the Middletons that lends an air of legitimacy to it, and that helps. Additionally, Molly is traumatized based on what happened to her previously, instead of putting on a cheerful face. She’s wary of new situations. In short, Wright allows her to be vulnerable.

However, she also extends that same courtesy to Cooper. Sure, Cooper might not always be good at handling his emotions, but he has them, and he’s also been damaged in ways. In that way, it’ll likely remind a reader of these movies, too, where the hero is both handsome and sensitive; Cooper is basically a through and through gentleman.

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This isn’t to say that this is a particularly good thriller, the kind you read because it makes the best-seller list. After all, it is a first novel from Wright. The writing is occasionally clunky, and there are some awfully contrived points for how smart the true villain is supposed to be. But what it is is the equivalent of comfort food, and sometimes, that’s what’s needed for a quick read.