Costa’s debut novel tells the engaging story of a man whose tumultuous life provides an even greater tale than the grand myths that surround him.
The first of many traumatic experiences in Horatio Janson’s life occurs when a performer from a traveling circus molests him; the effects of the incident don’t quite reveal themselves in straightforward ways, but many of Horatio’s violent acts, and perhaps his conception of sex, can be linked to this early experience. When he’s a teenager, Horatio’s mother sends him to work at a mill owned by a senator who supports her in exchange for sex. But when Horatio is wrongly accused of attempting to rape the senator’s daughter, his life of relocation and revenge begins. He moves around the South, proving himself to be a sharp businessman but also finding trouble without fail. Horatio grows increasingly amoral, as he takes many different wives and mistresses throughout the years, builds a number of successful, if often illegal, businesses, and kills more than one man. Although industrious, vengeful Horatio is the novel’s main character, it’s bookended by chapters focusing on Jo-Dee, Horatio’s great-granddaughter. Her interest in Horatio’s life frames the novel, but her character contributes little else, as she’s not around long enough for readers to feel connected to her. Fortunately, however, Horatio’s compelling nature complements the vividness with which Costa illuminates the story, which begins in Georgia, not long before the Civil War, on a plantation owned by Horatio’s maternal grandparents. Costa admirably renders the various classes that populate the plantation and moves the plot along quickly—though most of the core chapters span between 10 and 20 years—without sacrificing plot or character development.
The framing device feels insignificant, but Costa’s expressive voice effortlessly guides the compelling story.