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 […]

Stirring, Terrifying, Inspiring, Troubling—Yeah, That’s America

The first thing I note about Jill Lepore’s new one-volume history of the United States is how out of style it is. In an age of disintegrating consensus and competing truths, who would dare to attempt a comprehensive narrative of our national story? Fortunately, Jill Lepore would and the result is a book you’ll surely […]

How a Mississippi Man’s Struggles with Weight Tell the Truth about America

“America understands itself as God’s handiwork, but the black body is the clearest evidence that America is the work of men.”  —Ta-Nehasi Coates, Between the World and Me I confess that I picked up Heavy, Kiese Laymon’s staggering memoir about growing up bright and black in Mississippi, with more than a little curiosity about the obesity […]

Another Southern Writer Finds Love in the Ruins: A Review of Kevin Powers’ Latest

The opening paragraph of Kevin Power’s new novel, A Shout in the Ruins, is perhaps the finest beginning to a book I’ve read since Flannery O’Conner blew open the universe in the first paragraph of The Violent Bear It Away. Like that gem, Powers’ opener is all mood and tantalizing hooks that spark a thousand […]

Race, Virginia, and Jesus’ Circle of Favor

It has been a disturbing week in Virginia government. Once again, we are struggling with how we address questions of race and racism. This time Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring are both confronted with incidents from their past involving appearances in blackface, a remnant of minstrel shows where the entertainment came […]

Normal is How America Got This Way: A Review of The View from Flyover Country

“The absence of complaining should be taken as a sign that something is rotting in a society,” Sarah Kendzior says.  “Complaining is beautiful.  Complaining should be encouraged.  Complaining means you have a chance.” (225) Sometimes it takes a critic to get things to change, and Kendzior is such a critic.  Her book, The View from […]