Love and Lament

John Milliken Thompson. Other Press, $15.95 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-59051-587-7
Born in 1887, the year the railroad comes to fictional Haw County, N.C., Mary Bet Hartsoe is tough, humble, independent, and enduring—a true North Carolina heroine. Thompson’s second novel (after The Reservoir) follows Mary Bet as she grows from a curious six-year-old who mistakes a circuit-riding preacher for the Devil to a survivor of war, disease, love, and progress. By 15, Mary Bet has seen her mother and her eight older siblings die, including beloved deaf brother Siler, who perishes in a puzzling accident. She is left alone to care for her father, Cicero, a Civil War veteran and storeowner now suffering physical and mental deterioration. Eventually she takes a job as a courthouse clerk and sometime deputy working for her cousin; after he leaves to fight in World War I, Mary Bet becomes North Carolina’s first female sheriff. Thompson perfectly captures the Carolina Piedmont’s sights, sounds, and flavors and convincingly depicts the turn-of-the-century South—haunted by the Civil War, and embracing old-time religion and new-fangled machinery and ideas. Underlying and uplifting his narrative is Mary Bet’s vivid point of view: hiding while her grandmother breaks up her grandfather’s drunken poker game, helping the sheriff chase down moonshiners, watching Cicero and Able, the son of slaves, try to grow bananas in North Carolina’s climate. Agent: Ellen Levine, Trident Media Group. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 05/06/2013
Release date: 08/06/2013
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