Farmer’s daughter returns to family homestead to confront murder, experience mayhem and have great sex—not necessarily in that order.
Owen’s eighth novel revisits the territory of his debut, Littlejohn (1992). Eleven years after her father’s death, 50-ish English prof Georgia, twice divorced and once widowed, journeys back to her ancestral North Carolina farm. Most of the acreage was willed to neighbors, including Kenny, a Lumbee Indian who may or may not be her half-nephew. Georgia always figured that her reluctance to do her daughterly duty by Littlejohn McCain resulted in this partial disinheritance. But she isn’t so sanguine when she learns that her willed ignorance of elderly cousin Jenny’s plight left the old lady prey to an out-of-control clan of rural bullies, that sturdy Southern fiction cliché here embodied by William Blackwell and his menacingly tubby son Pooh. Georgia is readying her father’s farmhouse for sale with the help of son Justin, a Peace Corps veteran, and his pregnant girlfriend, Leeza. When Jenny drowns in her own backyard pond two days after their homecoming, Georgia is castigated by her former teacher for filial and cousinly neglect. Bereft of family support, Jenny succumbed to the Blackwells’ brand of extortion-assisted living; her house is now owned and occupied by Pooh. When Georgia starts sniffing around after Jenny’s missing diamond ring, Pooh threatens her with his bulk, then executes Leeza’s pet barncat. Meanwhile, Georgia’s distracted by the attentions of studly but sensitive Kenny and by Littlejohn’s occasional apparitions. Undaunted, Georgia plumbs the secrets of Jenny’s former abode and narrowly misses being Pooh’s next lunch. Flashbacks within flashbacks and shifts from Georgia’s point of view to a third-person narration unduly complicate an otherwise simple and moving tale of the clash between obligation and self-realization. The prose is clean; the characters are winning and vivid; and the ending, though a tad saccharine, is fitting and satisfying.
Fertile ground for a trilogy.