Tag Archives: North Carolina

Hieroglyphics, by Jill McCorkle

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.

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Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads SingHer mother walked down the dirt road out of the marsh to escape her violent, drunken husband in 1952, when Kya was only six years old. Without her protection, Kya’s older brothers and sisters slipped away, as well. Kya was the youngest. For the most part, her father seemed to forget that she existed and spent days at a time in the bars in town, leaving his little daughter to fend for herself in the marsh. Every once in a while, he left a little money on the table, and Kya learned to start the boat motor and buy grits at the store. She ate the edible weeds in the yard, and during a short stint of sobriety, her father taught her to fish. The truancy officer got her to school for one day, but it didn’t stick. The kids were so mean to the “Marsh Girl” that Kya hid whenever the official lady came back, so eventually she gave up.

Kya’s life changed when Tate, a boy from the town, started to leave her gifts of rare feathers. She remembered that her mother had been an artist, and she learned to draw and paint the feathers and then all of the tiny creatures in the marsh. She organized her specimens, and when Tate taught her to read, her collections grew into full-fledged scientific pursuits. Although she did not mix with the townspeople, she did spy on the group of popular kids her own age throughout the years, especially the high school quarterback, Chase Andrews.

Interspersed with the chronological narrative of Kya’s growing up are chapters set in 1969, when a couple of little boys discover the dead body of Chase Andrews under the fire tower. The sheriff and the town doctor cannot figure out how he died. There were no footprints leading up to the tower— not even Chase’s own. No tire tracks, no fingerprints. On the surface, there seemed to be no motive to kill the most popular young man in town, but in fact, there was no end of jilted lovers and jealous husbands on the suspect list.

The first unforgettable character in this novel is the marsh itself. Owens describes the plants, the animals, the soil, even the very air of lowcountry North Carolina so intimately that the reader feels the heat, the grit, the crawling life of the place in every pore. Kya feeds the gulls every day, and she knows them each as individuals. She scratches a garden together and forages for whatever grows wild. Her collections are labeled with not just the bird’s species, but the placement of the feather and the bird’s gender. She navigates the lagoons by tide and current, watching the weather and the waves. This watery landscape is as much a part of Kya’s desperate story as the plot and the other characters.

What can I say about Where the Crawdads Sing that hasn’t already been said? I am late to this party, but I’m so glad I came. The holds on this book continue to climb in our library catalog, and it’s been out for over a year now. The novel takes place about two hours east of where I live in North Carolina, and yet it’s a world away.

Where the Crawdads Sing is somehow slow and compelling at once, with the sort of ambiguous ending that makes it a favorite for book groups. Kya’s story is unforgettable: a strong young woman, a female-American Émile who struggles to survive outside of the bonds of community, whose essence is formed not by human culture, but from the marsh itself.

Very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

 

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