Evans’ debut novel depicts the struggles and triumphs of an African-American family in the segregation-era South.
On her 77th birthday, Goldie Jackson and her sister Rose relate their family’s tumultuous story to Goldie’s daughter, Shelby. Shelby, who lives a comfortable life, has little concept of the struggles that her mother and grandmother, Lillian, endured as African-American women in Virginia and South Carolina in the early 20th century. “You don’t know how it was back then,” Goldie tells her daughter. Along with Shelby, the reader learns of young Lillian’s secret, interracial affair with a future U.S. president. Lillian goes on to marry a respected African-American landscaper named Denver Jackson whose life is cut short when he is lynched by a Klan-like group called the World of the White Order, following a false rape accusation. Evans’ decision to feature fictional groups, figures and political parties is an odd one for a historical novel, but it doesn’t detract from the novel’s engagement with the social issues of the time. The Jackson family’s struggle continues into the next generation as Goldie becomes romantically involved with a tough bootlegger named Jake Freeman. At the same time, she must contend with the advances of her employer, the married, ambitious mayor, Zachary Stanton. A lot of story is packed into Evans’ relatively short novel, and as a result, the pacing often feels rushed. Furthermore, Evans occasionally has trouble managing the multidecade narrative: She states or heavily telegraphs outcomes too early, with the unfortunate effect of deflating tension. Evans proves more adept at balancing first-person and third-person narration, which allows the reader intimate access to Goldie’s experience, as well as a detailed overview of how race affected the social order of Aiken, South Carolina. Shelby remains at the edge of her seat through her mother’s story, and it’s easy to see why. Evans has constructed a complex narrative with a strong cast, many of whom harbor destructive secrets. Readers will come to care about the resilient Jackson women.
A Southern family saga, full of suffering, defiance and strength.