by Amy Franklin-Willis
Books that are endorsed by authors Pat Conroy and Mark Childress get my attention. When Conroy describes a title as ‘A riveting, hardscrabble book on the rough, hardscrabble south, which has rarely been written about with such grace and compassion’- Well, that compels me to pick up the book and take it home. And that’s what I did and here is what I discovered.
This ‘hardscrabble’ southern story is told through the voice of forty-two-year-old Ezekiel (Zeke) Cooper and his mother Lillian who live in the stifling small town of Clayton, Tennessee. It is the classic struggle of those who vow to leave their small town life, only to find an unexpected obstacle thrown in their path. And so, they remain in a place they don’t want to be, living a life where they are not fully invested. Late in life and on the brink of death, we find Lillian who has a trail of regrets and her middle-aged son Zeke, who is experiencing painful regrets of his own.
Zeke and his twin brother Carter were inseparable – even when Carter is left mentally diminished from encephalitis that occurs as a result of measles at the age of two. Zeke’s loyalty to Carter grows even stronger and so, when as an adult, Carter drowns, Zeke is left with an emptiness and an overwhelming sense of guilt. That guilt affects his marriage, the relationship he has with his daughters and the growing bitterness towards his mother.
As a remedy to guilt, Zeke recklessly clears all former obstacles that prevented him from leaving Clayton. It is on this spontaneous journey that he finds himself in a place, where some twenty years before, had experienced a sense of purpose and peace. It is there that he gains a true perspective on where his life has been and what possibilities still lie ahead.
I enjoyed the characters in this book but the story, although compelling, was essentially another variation of man in mid-life crisis. But I agree with Pat Conroy when he says this book was ‘written with such grace and compassion.’