*NAMED A BEST BOOK OF 2017 BY THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE*
*An Entertainment Weekly "Must-Read" Book for Fall*
From New York Times bestselling author Eleanor Henderson, an audacious American epic set in rural Georgia during the years of the Depression and Prohibition.
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.
Acclaimed author Eleanor Henderson has returned with a novel that combines the intimacy of a family drama with the staggering presence of a great Southern saga. Tackling themes of racialized violence, social division, and financial crisis, The Twelve-Mile Straight is a startlingly timely, emotionally resonant, and magnificent tour de force.
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.60(d)|
About the Author
Eleanor Henderson was born in Greece, grew up in Florida, and attended Middlebury College and the University of Virginia. 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 and was adapted into a film in 2015. An associate professor at Ithaca College, she lives in Ithaca, New York, with her husband and two sons.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This story is sad and the lives are grim. The characters are believable yet unbelieveable in their actions and lives. The struggle of the poor and ignorant. And the power of those with over those without. Especially the struggle of the Blacks in the deep backwoods of Georgia . And of being a woman or girl struggling with her own circumstances. Men are mostly the ignorant enemy in this story of strong women. I liked being so transported. And I liked the ending. I feel good and hopeful.
This is one huge amazing tale you won’t want to miss. The story opens in 1930 with two competing scenes, each startling and arresting in its own way. The scenes are connected and so, immediately implausible to the reader, for different reasons than they were to the community in the book. A black man is lynched because he has been apparently found out as the father of one of the twins newly born to a sharecropper’s teen daughter. Apparently one twin is white and one twin is black. For a 21st century reader the lynching is horrific; for the early 20th century rural Georgia dweller of the book, while the twin story is suspicious, the white girl’s rape is credible. The book is a masterful choreography of tales: of characters major and minor, sharecropper and landowner, former slave owning families and current corrupt bosses, sheriffs and prison gangs, and ancestors back through the ages. If some details seem more suitable for today’s reader than the time period in which the story takes place, it is only a small quibble. On the whole, this is a masterful work with heights of fancy and moments of tension that keep readers glued to the page. . I received my copy from the publisher through edelweiss.
The setting for The Twelve-Mile Straight is a small town in Depression-era rural Georgia in 1930. Young Elma Jessup gives birth to two babies- one black, one white. Her daughter is the child of the grandson of the wealthy man who owns the farm that her sharecropper father Juke works. Elma and Juke accuse a young black man who works for Juke, Genus Jackson, of raping Elma resulting in Elma's son. Juke, who made moonshine on the side that he sold to men in the town, convinced others to join him in making Genus pay by lynching him, dragging his body behind a truck and leaving it in the road in town. The death scene is horrific, and we soon learn that there is more to this story. Elma's mother died when she was a baby, and Elma was raised by Ketty, their black housekeeper. Ketty's daughter Nan grew up with Elma, and they were best friends, even though Elma went to school and Nan worked with Ketty, eventually learning from her how to be a midwife. As the story unfolds, we find out that there are many secrets in this house, secrets that will affect everyone who lives there for years to come. People are curious about Elma's two babies, and their two different fathers, and Elma eventually meets a doctor, Oliver, who wants to study this unique phenomenon. Oliver is a terrific character; he suffers from polio and he wants to be a research doctor. He is fascinated and compassionate towards Elma and her babies. There is a couple, Sarah and Jim, who came from up North and work on Juke's land. Why they are there is a mystery, but they provide company for Elma, for which she is grateful. And gentle, quiet Genus is such a sweet young man, his murder is devastating. There are some powerful scenes in the story, including a baptism for the babies, where several townsfolk turn out believing that at least one of the babies "has the devil in him." Oliver's memory of his time spent on a ship filled with other polio patients because people feared catching polio was heartbreaking. Henderson creates such a sense of time and place, you can feel the blazing summer sun and see the dust kicking up on the twelve-mile straight road. The reader is transported to this world, one that she conjured from stories her father told of his growing up, one of eight children born to a sharecropper. Her writing is so precise, it feels like she worked to craft the perfect sentence for each paragraph. I got so lost in The Twelve-Mile Straight that frequently I found myself completely tuning out my surroundings, losing all track of time and place. But it is the relationship between Elma and Nan that is at the heart of this emotional, moving story. The two women are as close as sisters, but it is the secrets between them that drive the momentum of the book to its shattering conclusion. I highly recommend The Twelve-Mile Straight, and if you haven't read Ten Thousand Saints, pick that one up too. I'm not the only one who feels this way, The Twelve-Mile Straight has made many Best of Fall lists.