Frank and Lil are getting up in years, and their daughter, Becca, thought it best that they move from snowy Massachusetts closer to her home in North Carolina. Lil had kept journals and other records of her entire life, and after the move, she sifted through them, reliving joys and sorrows. Lil’s mother had died in a nightclub fire, and Lil had been inspired to continue her mother’s dream of dancing and teaching little ballerinas. Frank, on the other hand, had lost his father in a train accident, and when they moved to North Carolina, they were back where Frank grew up in his stepfather’s home, right near the scene of the accident. He is often drawn to the tracks, searching for the artifacts that are still being discovered after all these decades.
Shelley lives with her son, Harvey, in the house where Frank grew up. Frank came to the door one day and asked to see inside, explaining his interest to a hesitant Shelley. Even though Lil waved from the car, Shelley was afraid to let them know that she was alone with her child. She didn’t want to admit—even to herself—that Brent might never come back. Harvey is filled with nightmarish fears, perhaps from all of the stories that his older brother had told him, or perhaps something more. He sees dark figures moving through the house at night, and although Shelley tries to comfort him, she sees them, too.
My friend, Janet, suggested Hieroglyphics as a group read, and this novel offers rich ground for discussion. It is told through all four viewpoints, including young Harvey’s, and each person has a distinctive voice. Although, as Janet told us, this book is darker than most of McCorkle’s work, her writing is thoroughly accessible, and the pages fly by. For those of you who are McCorkle fans, part of Shelley’s story ties in to an earlier novel. She is such a skillful writer that I expected a completely different ending right up until the last page.
One theme that came up during our group session concerned how some people’s lives will be forever changed by one pivotal event, while others can break free from the past and move forward. This novel is nostalgic to the point of being haunting, and all of the threads of the tangled plot resolve suddenly at the end—except one. Another novel, perhaps?
This engrossing story may be best for readers over 40 or so, and it makes a great pick for book discussion groups.
Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.