Long Loves in a Small Coastal Town: A Review of In West Mills

De’Shawn Charles Winslow’s debut novel begins with an arresting scene. Pratt Shepherd is in the middle of a fight with his free-spirited girlfriend in a small, coastal North Carolina town on the eve of World War 2. However, Azalea ‘Knot’ Centre, a sometime teacher at the local school for African-American children, is nobody’s possession. When […]

The Not-So-Calm Before the Storm: Jesmyn Ward’s Katrina Story

Katrina doesn’t arrive until Salvage the Bones is almost over, but the hurricane has always been coming. She broods over the whole of Jesmyn Ward’s epic 2011 novel, even when the only one who seems to know she’s on the way is Esch’s Daddy, whose preparations seem excessive to his four children living with him […]

Heartlands Best Reads of 2017:#1 Lincoln in the Bardo (& a recap)

There are certain things you know you’re going to find when you sit down to read a George Saunders story.  It will be weird, funny, engaging, and surprisingly deep.  I expected no less from Lincoln in the Bardo, Saunders’ first novel and I was not disappointed. The book, which won the Man Booker Prize this year, […]

Heartlands Best Reads of 2017: #6 Sing, Unburied, Sing

Mississippi has many layers.  William Faulkner knew this and crafted his intricate tales of Yoknapatawpha County with characters haunted by the past, spurred by subterranean passions, and trapped in violent, tragic relationships.  Jesmyn Ward claims Faulkner as an literary influence and it shows in her rich novels of Bois Sauvage, like Yoknapatawpha, a fictional rendering […]

A Tear for Bois Sauvage: A Review of Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

It’s not often that the ending of a book makes me moist-eyed.  And I can’t ever recall when the acknowledgements did that.  But there it was in the final sentences on page 289 of Sing, Unburied, Sing, the 2017 National Book Award-winning novel by Jesmyn Ward:  “In closing, I’d like to thank everyone in my […]