A literary novel explores more than a dozen mostly failed relationships, a family’s quest for happiness, and the hope of salvation.
Set on a family farm in rural Georgia, this tale revolves around Jude and her first husband, Buddy Owen, “king of the bad-luck blues,” and their nervous adult son, Harold, who bears the scars of his parents’ failed marriages. Buddy, fresh from his fifth broken marriage, moves into the condo behind Jude’s house and secretly plots to make her fall in love with him again, even though he claims he and Harold are not the kind of “men who beg for miracles.” When Harold brings his high-strung, agyrophobic (afraid of crossing roads), and acerbic fiancee home for Christmas, the family must confront its checkered, courthouse-and-altar-strewn past. The engagement marches on even as Harold’s squeamish fiancee finds a mutilated farm dog and runs away, stealing his car. The novel steps into the past to examine Harold’s first love as well as his parents’ various love affairs. It also looks candidly at the 60-year relationship between Harold’s self-sacrificing grandmother and her husband, who suffers from dementia and verbally abuses her. The periphery is filled with eccentric, broken characters, like Buddy’s brother (who is one of Jude’s later husbands), who fears he will suffer a heart attack if he tries to cross the county line. The story’s clever banter serves as comic relief for its otherwise heavy tone (“ ‘Because it’s no contest that the bad things Harold learned over the years, he learned from you.’ ‘Who said anything about a contest?’ ‘I said it’s no contest’ ”). Cashion (Last Words of the Holy Ghost, 2015, etc.) keeps his touch light when exploring the issues between Buddy and Jude as they dive headfirst into questionable, often absurd relationships with lovers and spouses they later regret. This leaves the idea of Buddy and Jude an obvious, almost inevitable possibility. Bittersweet, understated observations about love and happiness tie together the episodic love affairs of Jude, Buddy, and Harold: “We each insisted that we were happy,” and “I felt what I imagined love must feel like because there was no language to account for it.” The prose boasts poetic descriptions: “The pecan trees were dressed in Spanish moss so thick they looked like great-grandmothers wearing grey dresses.”
This seemingly cynical family tale offers redemption in unexpected places.