This book had me hooked from the first line; “You do a lot of thinking in jail.” I think Ms. Gray has a winner here, a book that is both deep and resonant, its characters both surprising, and flawed. I enjoy books that capture the attention of the reader not with a sledge hammer, but rather a siren song that pulls you in with nuance. The beauty of these characters lies in their utter imperfection, a couple with a restaurant and a place in the community, but also with a shared secret that could either destroy or redeem them, a professional counselor who hides her own shame in a deep addiction, a sister with a secret shame of her own, and children doing their best to grow and learn with absent parents.
The inter-generational theme of different kinds of absences is prevalent in the story. Children lose a beloved parent and their Reverend father travels to save other souls while his children rely on the kindness of parishioners to feed and clothe them. A mother is absent in her very presence, unable to break through her own walls to reach out to her own daughter.
Family is the thread that is woven and broken, tied together in redemption, and cut in the name of selfhood and the breaking of patterns of shame and secrecy. Unfolding the story of Althea and Proctor necessitates telling the tale of how she became the unwitting matriarch of her family at a young age, and how this affected her sisters, Lillian and Viola, and brother, Joe.
Ms. Gray captures the way we hurt the ones we love, and the strength that can come from trying to face the messes we make with honesty and an open heart.
This is a uniquely American story with the power to outlive our times. I would love to see Angela Basset cast as Althea in the movie that is sure to come out of this book. (Fingers crossed!)