In this Southern-gothic debut novel, a lost soul battles the elements and the elements win.
The Earth is a malevolent character from the opening scene, in which a rural Mississippi flood causes muck to overflow from ditches. Into this ominous setting comes Jay Mize, an idealistic misfit with a paranoid streak and unworkable dreams of running a self-sustaining farm. At the start of the book, both he and his life are well on the way to unraveling. The farm has collapsed, his neighbors think he’s unhinged, and his wife is starting to agree. Then a dead body mysteriously turns up on his property, and his paranoia hits a peak. Jay is convinced that he needs to destroy all evidence of the body, and his efforts inevitably open up new complications; especially since one hand remains missing. His wife, Sandy, leaves him and takes their son at around the same time Jay starts getting shadowed by policeman Danny Shoals. Jay has a shameful racial crime in his family history, and Shoals—who's soon devoting his efforts to seducing Sandy—has some bad behavior in his own past. Jay's reunion with his son provides a brief moment of hope before his final confrontation with an angry river and an angrier police officer.
The main problem is the lack of any sympathetic characters; Jay is simply too far gone to rank as a tragic figure. But Kornegay’s skillful writing keeps the story gripping and the atmosphere haunting.