A young girl survives the unpredictable wilds of Florida, searching for a home after the untimely loss of her mother.
With “silver hair” and the palest of skin, 14-year-old Pearl is used to being looked at. She has a penchant for risks and cigarettes, and she loves her absent-minded mother, Margot, with tender ferocity. The pair live in a Mercury “at the edge of a trailer park in the middle of Florida,” where Margot practices piano scales on the dashboard and hides Limoges porcelain plates in the trunk. “In that car my mother taught me how to set a table and how to serve tea,” recalls Pearl. “She showed me how to make a bed using a dishcloth folded around a book.” At the heart of their strange community of castoffs is a deceptive pastor whose gunrunning enterprise puts the entire trailer park at risk. And with the arrival of Eli Redmond, “a purebred liar” who has designs on her mother, Pearl somehow understands that her life as she knows it is over. With lyrical grace, Clement (Prayers for the Stolen, 2013, etc.) crafts the careful refrains of Pearl’s life. Clement’s language snakes and repeats throughout the novel in song and elegy, freighting the tiniest of details—conjoined alligators, a black handgun, even the tragic mythos of slain singer Selena—with meaning. Pearl’s story takes place in a world both strange and familiar, in the fairy tale of her mother’s imagination and in an America pockmarked by gun violence and poverty. Readers will root for Pearl to—somehow—reconcile the two visions, even as fate forces her hand.
Clement’s quiet tragedy is moving, unsettling, and filled with characters who will haunt you long after the story ends.