Book Review: The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson

The Twelve-Mile StraightAbout the Book

Cotton County, Georgia, 1930. In a house full of secrets, two babies-one light-skinned, the other dark-are born to Elma Jesup, a white sharecropper’s daughter. Accused of her rape, field hand Genus Jackson is lynched and dragged behind a truck down the Twelve-Mile Straight, the road to the nearby town. In the aftermath, the farm’s inhabitants are forced to contend with their complicity in a series of events that left a man dead and a family irrevocably fractured.

Despite the prying eyes and curious whispers of the townspeople, Elma begins to raise her babies as best as she can, under the roof of her mercurial father, Juke, and with the help of Nan, the young black housekeeper who is as close to Elma as a sister. But soon it becomes clear that the ties that bind all of them together are more intricate than any could have ever imagined. As startling revelations mount, a web of lies begins to collapse around the family, destabilizing their precarious world and forcing all to reckon with the painful truth.

Format: eBook (560 pp.), Hardcover (pp.) Publisher: Harper Collins UK/4th Estate
Published: 12th September 2017 (ebook)   Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

The book is written in a distinctive narrative style which conjures up the period and location in which it is set. From its immensely powerful opening chapter, the book tells a story of poverty, cruelty, prejudice and secrets.

‘There were things no one wanted known by the outside, and no one knew that better than Elma.’

Although it would be unfair to describe it as a ‘misery-fest’, it’s certainly the case that for the characters in The Twelve-Mile Straight happiness is rare and, where it exists, it is often fleeting.  The book depicts a situation in which power over livelihoods, housing, even life and death, is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals. It’s a world in which corruption or the complicity of officialdom allows a blind eye to be turned to their misdeeds. And, notably, it’s a patriarchal society where women are viewed as domestic slaves and sexual objects to be used and abused. For too many of the people who live in the environs of the Twelve-Mile Straight their experience of life is one of grinding poverty, backbreaking labour, disease, alcohol abuse and early death.

The storyline weaves back and forth in time giving the reader the back stories of characters and their different perspectives on events. I enjoyed The Twelve-Mile Straight (if ‘enjoyed’ is quite the right word given the experiences of most of its characters) but think I would have appreciated it just as much had it been around 150 pages shorter.

I received a review copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers Harper Collins UK/4th Estate in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Powerful, tragic, drama

Try something similar…Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke or If The Creek Don’t Rise by Leah Weiss (click on titles to read my review)

Eleanor HendersonAbout the Author

Eleanor Henderson was born in Greece, grew up in Florida, and attended Middlebury College and the University of Virginia, where she earned her MFA. Her debut novel Ten Thousand Saints was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2011 by The New York Times and a finalist for the Award for First Fiction from The Los Angeles Times. Her stories and essays have appeared in publications including Agni, Ninth Letter, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Poets & Writers, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Best American Short Stories. With Anna Solomon she is also co-editor of Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today’s Best Women Writers (FSG, 2014). An associate professor at Ithaca College, she lives in Ithaca, New York, with her husband and two sons. Her second novel, The Twelve-Mile Straight, was published by Ecco on September 12, 2017.

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