Roy (Bent Road, 2011, etc.) draws a Faulkner-ian tale of sex and violence from the Kentucky hills.
In scenes alternating between 1936 and 1952—and with points of view shifting and mirroring—two women live with a gift for foretelling, what they call the know-how. "It floats just above the lavender bushes, trickles from the moss hanging from the oaks...waiting for someone like Annie or Aunt Juna to scoop it or snatch it or pluck it from the air." Juna disappeared after her testimony led to Joseph Carl Baines being hanged in '36 for murder. As the book opens, Annie Holleran is trapped in a country superstition about her future husband’s face being reflected by well water on her 15th half-birthday—"her day of ascension." In fact, there’s as much about who loves whom here as about the Holleran-Baines blood feud ignited by Joseph Carl’s hanging. Willful ignorance, and the nature of the supposed crime, meant a rush to judgment, but only deep into the haunted tale come hints that Juna’s know-how disguises a darker trait. Roy’s characters live whole on the page, especially Annie, all gawky girl stumbling her way to womanhood through prejudice and inhibition; the widowed female sheriff, her husband’s successor, who announces the prisoner’s death: "On her head sits a simple blue hat she might wear to a wedding or a funeral"; Juna’s sister, Sarah, who aches for Ellis Baine; and the girls’ widowed daddy, who "has a way of balling himself up when he’s drinking regular, almost like he’s wanting to altogether disappear." As three generations struggle with deception and death, there’s much ado about lavender—in kitchens, in sachets, in bread and tea, symbolizing devotion—in this tale driven by something stranger.
A sure winner with fans of backwoods country noir.