The story of the complex social structure of a small town in the American South.
Before Lee Addison joins a prestigious firm in San Francisco, he decides to spend one last summer at home. He hasn’t lived in Arkansas for nearly a decade, and he starts his trip with a sense of wariness and apprehension that quickly dissipates. He works at a local law firm to gain trial experience, and he’s compelled to join the social circle that comes with being an Addison, despite his preference to keep a low profile. The pressures of working on a big case for the town and dealing with the ongoing tension between his mother and sister begin to wear on him. Little sister MJ finds it difficult to cope with the pressure of adolescence while in her big brother’s shadow, and the open praise of Lee exacerbates her identity issues, leading to self-destructive behavior. Of the few instances where African-American characters are present, the scenes are written in a patronizing tone reminiscent of the Jim Crow era, particularly when the Addison’s black neighbor delivers a pot of peas for the family via the kitchen entrance as opposed to the front door. For a book set in the ’90s, this behavior is anachronistic and offensive. Additionally, the storyline—a progressive young Southerner who is ostensibly shocked at the continued economic and social inequality faced by minorities in the American South—is all too familiar. However, despite the fact that Kemp Sterling seems to channel several previous Southern-based narratives, leaving the reader with multiple cases of déjà vu, the novel is a solid first attempt; the author uses stunning descriptive text, placing radiant images in the reader’s mind.
Vivid details don’t quite rescue the novel from its unoriginality.