An amiable debut, part family saga and part whodunit, about family life in a small southern town in the early 1970s.
Lemon City, Virginia, founded by ex-slaves who were each granted 40 acres and a mule by a benevolent Reconstruction governor, is remote, relatively prosperous, and extremely close-knit. Neighbors look out for one another and are extremely wary of outsiders. That can be a curse as well as a blessing, especially if, like Faye Dunlap, you’re young and eager to see a bit of the world beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains. Faye grew up in Lemon City as a descendant of one of the town’s founders, but by 1970 she’s made up her mind to move north and make her fortune among the Yankees. The farthest she can get at first is Booker Trade Community College not far from home, but there she meets Harry Lee Thompson, who seduces her with charm, good looks, and promises. When Faye returns to Lemon City two years later, she goes as Harry’s wife on what she thinks will be a brief visit, but her family has other ideas. Nobody likes Harry much, but they find him a home, lend him money to open a gas station, and drum up business for him among their friends and neighbors. Poor Faye looks stuck—until she makes a happy discovery: Harry is a heel. Faye’s brother discovers him with a town floozy, gets suspicious, and runs a police search on him, only to find he has a rap sheet as long as your arm. Heartbroken but liberated, Faye screws up the courage to leave Harry and head north on her own, but then comes home to find the louse dead on the floor, a victim of poisoning. Before she can get on with life, Faye has to figure out who killed him.
Nicely atmospheric, a modest tale of a young woman coming of age the hard way.