Jackson (The Opposite of Everyone, 2016, etc.) has written another spirited page-turner set in a new South still haunted by the ghosts of the old.
Leia, single at 38, writes popular graphic novels but is gun-shy with men. Following a boozy one-night stand at a comic-book convention, she has “fetched up pregnant” with a biracial child. Then she hears that her beloved 90-year-old grandma Birchie has slipped into dementia and is acting out: at church, Birchie has loudly, and lewdly, revealed what she knows about the new pastor’s relationship with a (married) parishioner. Leia decides to take charge, driving from her home in Norfolk, Virginia, to the small town in Alabama where Birchie lives with her lifelong friend Wattie, a black woman whose mother was her family’s housekeeper. Complications ensue—not least of which is the discovery of a trunk filled with the bones of someone who has met a violent end. There’s a whiff of Southern Gothic here and plenty of sex, lies, and family secrets. (The author’s fans will also recognize some elements from earlier novels). But Jackson is bighearted and, in the end, optimistic. She writes vivid, funny characters, and her voice is distinctive and authentic. She can also toss off amusing pop-culture references that make this narrative sound very au courant: Leia’s stepsister’s divorce “would be so perfectly done it would make Gwyenth Paltrow’s conscious uncoupling look like a bar brawl.” Jackson doesn’t do trite. Even when Leia ruminates on race, the author frames things in a fresh way: “There was no such thing as mixed-race in…America....The whole country had called a mixed-race man our ‘first black president.’ ” Perhaps the novel overreaches—the ending is a bit sober for what comes before—but it’s not a major flaw.
A satisfying, entertaining read from an admired writer who deserves to be a household name.