“You running away from something?”
Moses Washington to Ezekiel Cooper in The Lost Saints of Tennessee
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina
Set in southwestern Tennessee and the countryside around Charlottesville, Virginia, Amy Franklin-Willis’ soon-to-be-released novel The Lost Saints of Tennessee (Atlantic Monthly Press) is a story about running away from something…and running to something and even… someone. The main character of the story, a forty-two year old man named Ezekiel Cooper, is a man who is running from tragic loss of a brother and a marriage; a mother who betrayed her family and who is dying; and the pain and confusion of a life that has not turned out the way he, and others, had hoped it would.
Zeke, and his family’s, story of loss, betrayal, pain, hope rekindled, unresolved conflict, and second chances is sketched out by Willis in a tight but very matter-of-fact first person narrative as the reader is walked, mainly by Zeke but also his dying mother, Lillian, through 40 years of family history and secrets through flashbacks. The result is a tale that will grab the reader’s heart as s/he responds with both high regard for and profound frustration with Zeke and his choices. And along side the theme of running away; of pain; of deep grief; there is the theme of forgiveness – and the choice whether to forgive or not.
I find Franklin-Willis’ characters to be human in all of their foibles and failings and yet also in their aspirations to break out of their (often) self imposed limits due to their adolescent choices, addictive habits, the cultural of deference to parental wishes (for the most part), and the debilitating effects of their secrets (and sins). They truly are “lost saints.”
What I like about this novel is Franklin-Willis, an eighth generation southerner, has captured in a simple way, the deeply spiritual aspect of small town rural south while juxtaposing, in a kind and honest way, the deeply human aspect of the characters and the tensions between the two. Faith, in a God who is very personal to them, is woven through the story and is confirmed, I think in the second chances given to Zeke by Zeke’s ex-wife, his Virginia girlfriend, his oldest daughter, and even Zeke himself.
I give this novel five stars and found it worth the time to read.
Disclosure: I received an uncorrected proof of this book via the Amazon Vine program in exchange for review of it. I was not required to write a positive review.