Blind Eye by Martha Burns is a captivating and harrowing story about the price of silence.
There are some novels that truly rock you to your core. Blind Eye is one of those novels. And while it’s fiction, the book deals with very real and tragic events that do happen every day in any community. It really pinpoints the cost of not speaking up and getting involved.
The title is perfect—Blind Eye—a community turned the other way despite all signs pointing to abuse, which meant a boy suffered in so many ways. It really shows how complicity has rippling effects.
The story is set in Southeastern New Mexico where the bodies of Luke and Deona Pruitt are buried in a manure pit and their 14-year-old son Leeland Pruitt is missing.
Deputy Sheriff Greenwood is called out to investigate the missing Pruitt family and discovers the grim scene. Leeland’s brutal upbringing was an open secret overlooked by neighbors and teachers for years. The community turned a blind eye as Leeland was moved by his cruel father from one remote ranch to another. And so, Deputy Greenwood begins a twenty-four-hour hunt to find and save the boy suspected of murdering his parents.
Blind Eye is both a tragedy and a dilemma of moral conscience. In this tale of cultural complicity, the community, at best, looked the other way and, at worst, enabled abuse, leaving us all to ask, ‘What is too much to ask of a boy?’
Oftentimes, small communities are stereotyped as tight knit, always watching out for neighbors, taking care of each other, etc. So, I thought it was interesting how author Martha Burns explored a different side of small communities, which is not getting involved in other people’s business.
Sure, if someone needs a helping hand on the ranch or what have you, they’ll be there. But when it comes to dealing with a horrific situation caused by a long-standing family of the town—all of a sudden, the community goes silent. And even when it was more than apparent that Leeland suffered horrific abuse by the hands of his father, and later his stepmother, many of those who were in power —who could have helped—didn’t.
This book brings up so many questions, which makes it an ideal book club read. You’ll ponder why no one stepped up to help and also what you would have done if you were a member of the community. It really makes you think.
I’m such a fan of atmospheric-like stories where the setting serves as another character. Reading Blind Eye, you’re transported to Southeastern New Mexico onto this massive ranch. You can almost feel the dry air and blazing temperatures. The author provides plenty of vivid imagery, which really help set the tone for the novel.
The story is told from perspectives of quite a few characters including Deputy Sheriff Greenwood, Luke and Linda Pruitt, and more. Sheriff Greenwood is an engaging character as he works to solve the crime but also maintains his humanity despite seeing the absolute worst in some people. Reading the perspective of Luke was beyond chilling and I was afraid of what monstrous step he would take next.
But perhaps most compelling and quite unique is the author’s choice to include the community as a whole—very similar to the chorus in Greek mythology. I thought this tactic really painted such an interesting and also sad perspective. While the community wasn’t able to see everything that happened, they knew something was wrong, and clearly looked away when it got too real for them.
Blind Eye is a beautifully written and heart wrenching novel. Because of the heavy subject matter, it’s not an easy read but it’s very much an important one, which I can see driving many significant discussions among readers. This is a novel that will stay with me for a long time.
For book clubs, check out my discussion questions here.