The Lost Saints of Tennessee, by Amy Franklin-Willis (New York: Atlantic Monthly, 2012)
"With enormous heart and dazzling agility, debut novelist Amy Franklin-Willis expertly mines the fault lines in one Southern working-class family. Driven by the soulful and intrepid voices of forty-two-year-old Ezekiel Cooper and his mother, Lillian, The Lost Souls of Tennessee journeys from the 1940s to the 1980s as it follows Zeke's evolution from anointed son to honorable sibling to unhinged middle-aged man.
"After Zeke loses his twin brother in a mysterious drowning and his wife to divorce, only ghosts remain in his hometown of Clayton, Tennessee. Zeke makes the decision to leave Clayton in a final attempt to escape his pain, puts his two treasured possessions -- a childhood copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tucker, his dead brother's ancient dog -- into his truck, and heads east. He leaves behind two adolescent daughters and his estranged mother, who reveals her own conflicting view of the Cooper family story in a vulnerable but spirited voice stricken by guilt over old sins as she clings to the hope that her family isn't beyond repair.
"When Zeke finds refuge with his sympathetic cousins in Virginia horse country, divine acts in the form of severe weather, illness, and a new romance collide, leading Zeke to a crossroads where he must decide the fate of his family -- either by clinging to the way life was or moving toward what life might be."
"The late August air lies still, its weight pressing down on me in a way it didn't when I was a boy."
Not high literature for the ages, possibly not even book club material (I wish I knew, but never have stumbled on a book club that was looking for new members) -- but a lovely, gentle story about a man confronting that all-too-familiar midlife question, "Is this really all there is?" Long story short (really, for once), I enjoyed it.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.