Rock-’n’-roll, Charleston by moonlight, passion dangerous and doomed, the specter of slavery and misty memories of blasted Confederate bravado, all sung in a key of high rhapsody: Could a novel be more Dixie-fried?
Craggily handsome, yet a tad wrecked in a sexy, world-weary way, Ransom Hill is pure fantasy. Only a master fabulist could pull him off. Interweaving Ransom’s quest to reclaim the titular antebellum mansion and the love of gorgeous Claire, whom he’d spurned for jukebox dreams, with the saga of Harlan and Addie, lovers who’d mysteriously evaporated into the Carolina ether back in 1865, Payne (Early from the Dance, 2003, etc.) hooks the reader like a wide-eyed catfish. Having ditched Claire and kids when the Ransom Hill Band scored their one big hit, the former rock god has some serious making up to do. One wound in need of healing was inflicted upon Marcel Jones, former drummer with the band, which also featured Claire’s Stevie Nicks to Ransom’s Lindsey Buckingham. Now the elegant black percussionist is a dean at the college where Claire hopes to teach music, but he still smarts when recalling Ransom’s Jagger-sized ego. Will love blossom between Claire and Ransom’s rival? Will an eerie parallel be drawn between today’s troubled owners of Wando Passo and their Civil War predecessors, Addie and Harlan and his brother (who turns out to be black)? Payne’s plot is a fine, twisty marvel, but what ultimately sells this epic is his outsized passion. Steamy sex, family life in all its closeness and conflict, landscape in high relief, quasi-biblical prose poetry—about the only thing this gusher lacks is irony. And that’s a big plus.
Basically defining “sweeping saga,” this Southern tearjerker is heaven for die-hard romantics.