The latest southern saga from Malone (Red Clay, Blue Cadillac, 2002, etc.) reaches across 40 years in the lives of two childhood friends who see each other mainly at Christmas.
Noelle (“Noni”) Tilden was born on Christmas Day 1956. So was John (“Kaye”) King. In their hometown of Moors, North Carolina, everybody knows just about everybody else, so it’s inevitable that the two are going to meet—and they do, on Christmas Eve 1963. Noni’s family are prominent local citizens (her grandfather founded the town bank), while Kaye’s folks are poor blacks (his grandmother keeps house for the Tildens). But Noni and Kaye become friends and grow up together during the turbulent 1960s and ’70s. The story is broken into 12 chapters, each set on or near a Christmas Day, and it follows the fates of the Tildens and Kings with the clarity of a family album. Kaye’s mother goes mad and leaves him to the care of his grandparents; he becomes radicalized by the black power movements of the Nixon years before making peace with the world and going on to medical school and a successful practice. Noni loses her beloved elder brother Gordon in Vietnam, marries local boy Roland Hurd, and settles down to raise a family. Most of the developments are realistically gradual and unsurprising (Noni’s hell-raising brother Wade gets himself into trouble again and again as a boy and grows up to run a string of unprofitable businesses; Kaye’s wheelchair-bound grandfather loses all ambition and spends his last decades dozing in the sun), but there are also moments of more intense drama, as when Noni develops a cancerous tumor and Kaye is called in to save her. But even that intensity seems to arise out of patterns and traditions set long before.
A quietly moving tale of people formed and trapped by history and locale, told with an authentic taste for the region.