Blues on the bayou, and blood to boot.
The piney woods of southern Mississippi aren’t much of a place. Everyone knows everyone’s business, nobody has enough to do, and in between hurricanes there’s only trouble to get into. Ward’s first novel opens with Christophe and Joshua DeLisle, fraternal twins, preparing to jump into the swirling waters of a muddy river—to cool off, not to kill themselves. It’s a portentous moment, for just as each will jump differently, so will their lives take a different course. Caring for an ailing grandmother and just out of high school, the boys are holding their own in this backwater world until temptation presents itself: Joshua finds himself with some folding money after finding a job on the wharves, Christophe with yet more folding money after he takes up selling a little weed after not finding licit work. Danger insinuates itself in the form of the boys’ long-absent father, a bad actor with a mean drug habit who likes stronger blends than Christophe has to sell, and the story thenceforth takes turns that can be seen coming from a long way off. Ward’s plotting is predictable, but her story is closely observed, full of telling details: “Christophe had fallen asleep in the middle of counting his money, and was stretched out with his arms thrown over his head as if he had been surprised, his mouth open, the bills ragged and bunched underneath him.” The author, a native of the Mississippi coast, serves up a world that has been little depicted: the rural African-American South, a place of grinding poverty but enduring loyalties, tragic but somehow noble at the same time.
A promising debut.