The Ash Family

Published April 9th, 2019

When a young woman leaves her family—and the civilized world—to join an off-the-grid community headed by an enigmatic leader, she discovers that belonging comes with a deadly cost, in this lush and searing debut novel.

At nineteen, Berie encounters a seductive and mysterious man at a bus station near her home in North Carolina. Shut off from the people around her, she finds herself compelled by his promise of a new life. He ferries her into a place of order and chaos: the Ash Family farm. There, she joins an intentional community living off the fertile land of the mountains, bound together by high ideals and through relationships she can’t untangle. Berie—now renamed Harmony—renounces her old life and settles into her new one on the farm. She begins to make friends. And then they start to disappear.

Thrilling and profound, The Ash Family explores what we will sacrifice in the search for happiness, and the beautiful and grotesque power of the human spirit as it seeks its ultimate place of belonging.

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Illustration for the New York Times by Yifan Wu.

Illustration for the New York Times by Yifan Wu.



Belletrist April 2019 Pick

Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick

Glamour Best Books of 2019 So Far

Paris Review Staff Pick

“[A] stunning début...Dektar has a gift for describing the wonders of the natural world, and sensitively inhabits a young cultist’s fragile state.” —The New Yorker

“Molly Dektar's creepy, brilliant debut novel, The Ash Family has not a whiff of the supernatural about it. Yet it is a top-notch horror story, made even more unsettling by the fact that nothing about what it unravels is particularly far-fetched.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“This debut novel is nothing short of compelling . . . a captivating and haunting tale.” —New York Journal of Books

"If Wild Wild Country was your number one Netflix show of 2018, then you'll love the story of Berie—a 19-year-old who finds belonging in an off-the-grid (and dangerous) collective instead of her freshman dorm.” —Glamour

“Although it’s tempting to rush through this near-thriller, The Ash Family is the kind of novel that should be read slowly. Yes, it’s propulsive and ridden with moments of tension, but savoring on the layered secrets found inside the unraveling Ash Family’s farm is the real treat here.”—Chicago Review of Books

“Molly Dektar's creepy, brilliant debut novel, The Ash Family has not a whiff of the supernatural about it. Yet it is a top-notch horror story, made even more unsettling by the fact that nothing about what it unravels is particularly far-fetched.”—Fredericksburg Free Lance Star

“From the very first few pages of her debut novel about a cult, ‘The Ash Family,’ author Molly Dektar’s substantial writing chops are abundantly clear ... a compelling read about what motivates us as humans and the lengths to which we’ll go to satisfy our needs.” —Associated Press

“In the recent surge of fiction written by millennial women for their peers, none have done quite what Molly Dektar does in her debut novel, The Ash Family…The ‘millennial novel,’ as it has developed into a subgenre thus far, is in large part about individuation and actualization, but here it is about trying to connect in some meaningful way with the physical world. The protagonist, Berie, is never fully involved in her new family’s increasingly violent acts, and this is likely because Dektar’s attention is as captivated by the natural world as Berie’s is; she would rather linger over landscapes than plot a protest. And thankfully so—Dektar crafts beautiful prose, lush and loamy in the vein of Thomas Hardy’s naturalism.” —The Paris Review

“In The Ash Family, the brilliant Molly Dektar explores and explodes the lines between ally and enemy, between collaboration and sabotage, between blessing and threat. Dektar evokes the irresistible beauty of the wilderness, and then exposes its ravaging harshness. This mesmerizing, terrifying book asks the hard questions: What should humankind do in the face of environmental catastrophe? Where does the individual end and the communal begin? A powerful tale by a powerful new writer.” —Helen Phillips, author of Some Possible Solutions and The Beautiful Bureaucrat

“The Ash Family floored me.  With stirring insight, nuanced emotion, and prose as beautiful as poetry, this magnificent novel delves into essential questions of need and desire, love and family, success and sacrifice. Molly Dektar is a wholly original writer, and we need her vision and voice more than ever.” —Bret Johnston, author of Remember Me Like This

“With the magic of a born storyteller, Molly Dektar tunnels into questions of desire, obedience and freedom. The Ash Family is as sharp as it is wise.” —Ramona Ausubel, author of Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty

"Lushly written, psychologically acute, Molly Dektar’s The Ash Family captures what it’s like to be nineteen in America now: idealistic, easy to prey on, at the mercy of forces greater than oneself. It’s a marvelous debut, riveting from start to finish." —Joshua Henkin, author of The World Without You

"The Ash Family delivered me into a utopia on the knife’s edge—the glory of living holistically in North Carolina’s majestic wild lands, is cut with a toxic mix of narcissism and magnificently bruised characters. Dektar’s unstoppable tale of a country beyond is an addictive read so engrossing I forget where I am. I forget who I am, a surrender so sweet in her able hands." —Samantha Hunt, author of The Dark Dark and Mr. Splitfoot

The Ash Family is a hauntingly beautiful and captivating novel, one that peers deep into our search for meaning, purpose, family and love in what may seem like a broken and dangerous world, a story written with such startling grace and clarity it’s hard to imagine ever looking at the natural world the same way again.” —Dinaw Mengestu, author of How to Read the Air

The Ash Family is a suspenseful and atmospheric exploration of escape, idealism, and community, a captivating ode to the quest for something more. Molly Dektar writes with great nimbleness and insight, and her debut novel marks the arrival of a wonderful new talent." —Laura van den Berg, author of The Third Hotel

"[A] lyrical debut...Dektar’s deft construction of the Ash Family’s world and their environmentalist values brings a meaningful new story to the canon of cult narratives. Perfect for fans of Philip Roth's American Pastoral (1997) and the film Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene." —Booklist (starred review)

"The novel shines in its thoughtful portrayal of cult members' (likely) complicated feelings: devotion, love, fear, desperation, and purpose. An affecting, cleareyed debut." —Kirkus Reviews

“In her excellent debut, Dektar probes life in a cult with a masterful hand, excavating the troubled mind of a young woman who joins what she thinks is a modern-day commune…Dektar’s eloquent, often poetic prose draws readers into this disturbing, powerful novel.” —Publishers Weekly