In this debut novel, three adult sisters confront their family’s dark and fractured past while searching for a way forward amid myriad challenges including prison time, eating disorders, and long-buried secrets.
Growing up, the Butler children—Althea, Viola, Joe, and Lillian—had it rough. When their mother died young and their abusive preacher father hit the road for months at a time, it fell to 12-year-old Althea and her friend Proctor, who would eventually become her husband, to raise her siblings. The story opens in the present day, with now middle-aged Althea and Proctor in jail awaiting sentencing for committing fraud and stealing from both the federal government and fellow citizens of their small Michigan town, where they were restaurateurs and community organizers. The couple’s twin teenage daughters, Kim and Baby Vi, are living with Lillian, struggling with the aftermath of their parents’ crimes and demons of their own. Gray, a journalist, shares biographical similarities with her characters: Like the Butlers, Gray is black and grew up in a predominantly white Michigan town, the daughter of a preacher. And like Viola, Gray is gay and in recovery from bulimia. When Viola, on her way back to Michigan from her apartment in Chicago for Althea's sentencing, holes up in a motel room gorging on junk food and vomiting, Gray’s descriptions of the binge-and-purge cycle are particularly visceral: “While I wait for the toilet to collect itself for another flush, I go to the sink, still feeling light as air. Still enjoying the fuzzy, white-noise sense of calm. Xanax couldn’t make me feel any mellower, I don’t think.” Gray manages a large cast of characters with ease, sharply differentiating between the voices of hardheaded Althea, shrewd Viola, and hesitating Lillian, who narrate the novel in alternating chapters. Scenes of Althea attending Bible study in jail and grappling with her faith tend to drag and read as extraneous to the more pressing family dramas at hand.
A deep dive into the shifting alliances and betrayals among siblings.