Park’s gripping debut novel, an unconventional love story, unfolds in KKK–controlled Cattahatchie County, Mississippi, during a violent 1969 civil rights struggle.
Holly Lee Carter returns to her hometown to take over the family’s newspaper, which covers only white news, and finds herself in the center of family turmoil and a Klan uprising over school integration. Twenty-eight-year-old Holly had left Cattahatchie County and her family 10 years ago, studied photography, and gone to Vietnam. She returned to California paralyzed from the waist down. Now, her father has died in a mysterious automobile accident and unexpectedly left her the controlling interest in the Current-Leader as well as title to the family’s country home, Wolf’s Run. It’s a major blow to her older brother, Tom Carter, who expected to be their father’s heir and had hoped to sell the 7-decades-old paper. As Holly arrives in Cattahatchie County, accompanied by good friend and personal assistant, Eve Howard, her car is run off the road into a muddy ditch by members of the Klan. High school upperclassmen Nate Wallace and Cutter Carlucci come to the rescue. Nate and popular football star Cutter have been friends since childhood. Now each is enduring a family crisis. Their friendship will be severely tested when Holly and Cutter develop an unexpected bond. Nate is more of a secondary character—a representation of a generation angry at change but gradually wrestling with the horror of the present. Park takes a risk, assigning to Nate the task of being both first-person and omniscient third-person narrator in this complex story. It is, at times, confusing. But the author’s ability to turn a phrase, capturing, in a few words time, place and atmosphere, is a joy. Here is Nate describing the year after his brother was killed in Vietnam: “Mamma had grieved herself into the ground.” Solid character portrayals, personal melodrama, a murder mystery, and unrestrained violence propel this page-turner to its explosive conclusion.
A timely reminder of a shameful period in American history and an addictive read with some final surprises.