Genre: southern fiction
Length: 665 pages
Setting: Colleton, SC and NYC, 1960s to 1980s
Interest: It was one of the BBC’s The Big Read books.
Summary: Savannah has once again tried to commit suicide, and her twin, Tom, is heading up to New York City to help her. He doesn’t mind a break from his family since his marriage is going through a rough patch. Tom relates stories of their childhood to Savannah’s psychologist to provide background to her breakdown. Their father was a shrimper with a quick temper and a heavy hand. Their mother always hoped to be part of local society, but was continually thwarted by her husband’s failing get-rich-quick schemes. She was also adamant the children would never share their family’s secrets – not their lack of money, or the day three men broke into the house and raped the mother, Savannah, and Tom, or how their brother Luke was killed when he refused to allow the Atomic Commission to move the whole town and build a nuclear power plant. Tom has an affair with the psychologist but goes home to his family when Savannah gets out of the psych ward.
Final thoughts: The writing in this book was simply haunting. I wasn’t always drawn to read the book, but once I picked it up, I had a hard time putting it down. There was so much foreshadowing in the book. I knew from the beginning that something horrible had happened to the family. As Tom began a new story, I would wonder if this was the awful thing. When we finally got to what I would consider the awful thing (the rape and subsequent cover-up), I found out there’s one more event even more traumatic to the family (Luke’s death). For me, the rape scene was harder to read, but I can see how the loss of Luke would wreck the family. Each of the characters were deeply flawed, but in different ways. When the three siblings were together, they almost made a whole person. To lose one of the links in that chain would throw off all the coping dynamics the kids had built together.
I also loved the setting of the feeling of being in the South. We didn’t spend too much time on the shrimp boat, but we did get to follow the kids in Tom’s recollections as they wandered the creeks and tidal marshes of the area. Their home was important to the family, or at least Tom and Luke. When it was taken away, they lost an important part of their bedrock holding their personality together.
Title comes from: It was the title of one of Savannah’s poems and referred to Luke.
Reading challenges fulfilled: #68 in my Maybe 100 This Year Challenge
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