The engrossing latest from McCorkle (Life After Life) meditates on the physical and emotional imprints that make up a life. Octogenarian couple Frank and Lil retire to Southern Pines, N. C., from the Boston area to be closer to their adult daughter, Becca, and for Frank, a retired professor who has been drifting with no sense of purpose, to explore his past. Frank had lived there during his youth, after a 1943 train accident injured his mother and killed his father. Lil spends her time sorting through and composing journal entries to leave for her children, and through Lil’s voice, McCorkle finds an elegant mix of wistfulness and appreciation for life (“The premature blue dusk of a winter afternoon... the kind of light that makes you feel immortal”). Meanwhile, Frank walks the train tracks near the accident site and frequently drops by his former home. The house is now occupied by Shelley, a single mother who lives with her young son, Harvey, and guards herself against outsiders. Early on, McCorkle makes clear that Shelley is hiding secrets in the house, and as Frank persists in his desire to tour the house, Shelly’s family’s betrayals and falsehoods bubble to the surface. Throughout, McCorkle weaves a powerful narrative web, with empathy for her characters and keen insight on their motivations. This is a gem. (June)
McCorkle returns to Southern Pines, North Carolina, to explore themes of fate, mortality, and the human need for coping rituals.
Four characters take turns narrating what at first appears to be a rather aimless accretion of vignettes. On closer reading, however, the ingenious structure of this novel reveals itself. The present action begins on June 12, 2018, as Frank, a retired professor in his 80s, leaves what appears to be a suicide note and heads out in search of artifacts from his childhood. A single mother named Shelley is struggling to retain her court reporting job after the trial judge discovers that she's doing more than simply transcribing the trial of a prominent doctor accused of killing his young mistress. Shelley’s younger son, Harvey, self-conscious about his repaired cleft palate, is worrying his mother and teachers with his fixation on serial killers and ghosts. Frank and his wife, Lil, recently moved to North Carolina from Newton, Massachusetts. Their reminiscences, conveyed by his interior reflection and her notebook entries, reveal the tragic coincidence that united them: In the early 1940s, each lost a parent to a disaster when Lil’s mother died in a Boston nightclub fire and Frank’s father perished in a North Carolina train wreck while returning from Florida with his wife. Frank’s formerly idyllic childhood in Newton was doubly curtailed by his father’s death and his mother’s refusal to leave North Carolina. She married Preston, the tobacco farmer who rescued her from the wreck. The remainder of Frank’s childhood was spent in Preston’s house, near the tracks—the house that Shelley now occupies. Lil’s notes, spanning decades, reveal Frank’s infidelity and their eventual reconciliation. Death permeates this starkly honest tale, unleavened by McCorkle’s usual humor. Frank is still obsessed with the funerary customs and afterlife mythology he once studied. Harvey is transfixed by morbidity. Shelley harbors conflicting sentiments about justifiable homicide. Lil rails against Frank’s growing fatalism.
Gathers layers like a snowball racing downhill before striking us in the heart with blunt, icy force.
A moving and deeply appealing novel.”—People “A good novel can perform the same perception-bending trick as a lockdown: slowing time, throwing light on shadowed corners, reminding us of the interdependencies among us that we once took for granted . . . Vibrant, engaging . . . McCorkle, a generous, humane writer, knows that facing death allows us, as this terrible pandemic has, to focus on what is essential: how to take care of our vulnerable, and to appreciate the connections that sustain us.” —The New York Times Book Review “A bard of Southern fiction weaves a layered tale around a married couple who retire from Boston to North Carolina amid a beehive of secrets. A hidden journal, a childhood house, a long-ago fire: All emerge as keys and touchstones in McCorkle’s shimmering prose.”—O, The Oprah Magazine “Jill McCorkle has long been one of our wryest, warmest, wisest storytellers. In Hieroglyphics, she takes us on through decades, through loss, through redemption, and lands in revelation and grace. As always with McCorkle, the story feels so effortless and true that we might well miss what a high-wire act she’s performing. But make no mistake: She’s up there without a net, she never misses a step, and it’s spectacular.” —Rebecca Makkai, Pulitzer Prize finalist for The Great Believers “Hieroglyphics is a novel that tugs at the deepest places of the human soul—a beautiful, heart piercing meditation on life and death and the marks we leave on this world. It is the work of a wonderful writer at her finest and most profound.” —Jessica Shattuck, author of The Women in the Castle “Jill McCorkle at her best—a masterful storyteller noting the complications of life with a heart full of empathy.”—Garden & Gun “Wise and tender, Hieroglyphics captures life itself: the experiences that shape us and bind us to one another, and the moments of terror and grace we carry in our hearts. Jill McCorkle's new novel is a triumph.” —Claire Messud, author of The Burning Girl “A thoroughly existential story that inspects mortality, the passage of time and the inadequacies of human communication . . . [McCorkle’s] mastery of words as a vehicle to deliver raw emotions never wavers. Hieroglyphics dwells in nostalgia and the inevitable pain that’s built into the contract of life, but like a good therapy session, it proves rewarding.”—Atlanta Journal-Constitution “The real joy of Hieroglyphics is its intricacy, the pieces of four stories assembled into a mosaic of love and pain and redemption . . . the plain and elegant style pulls the reader through its shifts and counterpoints. You emerge bedazzled, blinking in the bright sunlight of now and carrying the shards of their experiences in your heart. McCorkle is a gracious stylist who hides a whip-smart gift behind her Southern charm. She knows how to tell a good story.”—Washington Independent Review of Books “Hieroglyphics is suffused with a deep and heartening understanding of human resilience and strength. A beautiful and emotionally satisfying novel." —Brad Watson, author of Miss Jane “Engrossing . . . McCorkle finds an elegant mix of wistfulness and appreciation for life . . . Throughout, McCorkle weaves a powerful narrative web, with empathy for her characters and keen insight on their motivations. This is a gem.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review "Ingenious . . .Gathers layers like a snowball racing downhill before striking us in the heart with blunt, icy force." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review "A powerful evocation of loss and yearning . . . McCorkle testifies to the ageless nobility of human beings who want the next generation to do better. A deeply moving and insightful triumph." —Booklist, starred review "Demonstrating her widely recognized skill at creating memorable stories out of the stuff of daily life, McCorkle's empathy for a quartet of unassuming but appealing characters provides the foundation for a novel whose drama is modest, but whose insight is deep. Jill McCorkle is an unfussy writer whose storytelling skill almost gives the impression she's simply eavesdropping on her character's lives. It's that quiet talent that makes Hieroglyphics a novel whose appeal will only enlarge in the reader's mind with the passage of time." —Shelf Awareness “No one has a more captivating storytelling style than McCorkle, and her narrative gifts are on full display in Hieroglyphics. As in her previous novel, Life After Life, she does a masterful job of weaving a whole from many parts. Revelations about all the characters arrive slowly, finally reaching a conclusion that is fully satisfying, as soaked in love and sorrow as every human life.” —Chapter16.org “McCorkle is an insightful, skillful writer.”—New York Journal of Books “McCorkle is known for being a funny and astute chronicler of everyday life. Hieroglyphics . . . is a layered and powerful meditation on parenthood, loss and family history, and yet it has the easy feel of an entertaining neighbor spinning a tale on the porch while shelling peas.”—Savannah Morning News “Jill McCorkle’s novels are always worth the wait. That’s certainly true of Hieroglyphics. Few books are so honest and true to life, yet so ultimately uplifting. She’s a master of the art of weaving a story, through just the right details, nuances and anecdotes, for us to decipher as we read.”—Greensboro News & Record “McCorkle’s book is deeply layered, deconstructing and reconstructing what it means to be a parent, and what it means to be a child trying to make sense of history and memory.” —Winston-Salem Journal “Hieroglyphics is a powerful, deeply moving testament to both the ties of family and the taut fragility of memory's plumb-line. Shelley, Harvey, Lil and Frank felt so real that it seemed as if I had known them for many years; this book stayed with me well beyond the last page.”—Daniel Mason, author of The Winter Soldier
Having bonded over losing a parent when each was a child, Lil and Frank married happily and, now retired, are sifting through memories in ways that can be troublesome. Lil starts revealing secrets, and Frank brings heartache to the single mother living in his old family home. With a 75,000-copy first printing.