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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-10-31
- Reviewer: Staff
In 1985, a decade after losing his twin brother, Carter, in a drowning accident, Zeke Cooper leaves his hometown of Clayton, Tenn. (and his teenage daughters and ex-wife), with enough pain pills to kill himself and his dog. Despite the novel’s gloomy undertones, Franklin-Willis’s well-rendered debut slowly charms—complete with a Southern drawl—as Zeke lands at his mother’s cousin’s farm in Virginia. There, Zeke begins a romance with Elle, a horseback riding teacher, but he remains stuck in the past, grieving for his brother and angry with his mother, Lillian, who’s been recently diagnosed with cancer. Lillian proves a more compelling and introspective character than Zeke, and she briefly takes over as narrator, recounting the many tragedies in her life, including Carter being diagnosed as mentally handicapped when he was a child, a lurid affair with her brother-in-law, and a haunting drunk-driving accident. Together, mother’s and son’s tangled stories from the ’40s and ’50s provide just enough insight into the present-day family dynamic for readers to believe that there’s hope for Zeke after all. (Feb.)
Fight or flight for a working-class man
Recently divorced, middle-aged and generally down on his luck, Ezekiel Cooper doesn’t know where he’s going when he packs up his loyal dog, Tucker, and leaves his hometown of Clayton, Tennessee. Zeke just knows he’s running—running from memories of his broken marriage, from his twin brother’s tragic death and from the many secrets that have shattered his family. Through the alternating, pitch-perfect voices of Zeke and his complicated mother Lillian, Alabama writer Amy Franklin-Willis tells the story of the Cooper family from the 1940s to the 1980s in The Lost Saints of Tennessee.
Lillian is a difficult woman—a mother who loves her five children, but can’t help but feel that they have derailed her dreams. Zeke is her golden child, the one she’s sure will get out of their small town and make something of himself. But things don’t exactly turn out as planned, and his time at the University of Virginia is cut short. Then his brother’s mysterious death changes everything. Eventually, Zeke finds himself back in Virginia, with his mother’s cousins Georgia and Osborne, trying to reclaim his life, his sanity and his family.
In her powerful debut, Franklin-Willis expertly crafts a Southern novel that stands with genre classics like The Prince of Tides and Bastard out of Carolina. The Lost Saints of Tennessee is a measured, slow-burning book, with complex, compelling characters and secrets that reveal themselves slowly. A beautiful novel from a talented new author, The Lost Saints of Tennessee proves that in great literature, as in life, we must always expect the unexpected.