A large-scale, romantic sequel to Parker’s debut novel, Hello Down There (1993), follows two siblings searching for each other across America as the 1960s begin.
Previously, a wealthy, small-town southerner died of a morphine overdose and Reka Speight, his teenaged lover from the wrong side of the tracks, was accused, tried, and convicted of murder. Now, in 1959, Reka has just been released from prison. Desperate to better herself and flee her dead-end prospects at home in Trent, North Carolina, she pretends she’s a college girl in order to get a job selling educational books in Montana. Her only regret is leaving behind her younger brother. Reka practically raised the naturally gifted, painfully innocent Randall, who was deeply involved in her earlier troubles. She extracts a promise from their illiterate, drunken father to give a note to Randall (away in Norfolk working in a shipyard) explaining how to contact her. For his own reasons, Daddy hides the note until an indelibly poignant scene in which Randall reads Reka’s message while his father enjoys his first—and last—swim in the ocean. The rest of the story intertwines Reka’s search for a new life with Randall’s search for Reka. She is a quick-witted realist, a survivor who is also, on her own terms, a moralist. He is much more fragile: his unschooled brilliance, his childlike openness, and his imagination combine with his desperate loneliness to tragic effect. It is impossible not to love these characters. Although they make horrible choices with heartbreaking consequences, there are no villains. Everyone here, in however minor a role, is driven by a fully developed, nuanced complex of motivations; each works hard for whatever scraps of happiness this dark yet emotionally generous novel allows.
Parker takes southern gothic clichés and turns them on their heads: a powerfully original work.