In her patient yet rich first novel, a Great Gatsby reboot, Watts (We Are Taking Only What We Need) digs deep into the wounds of a down-and-out African-American family in the contemporary South. Lone wolf J.J. Ferguson returns to economically depressed Pinewood, N.C., after 15 years to woo Ava, his high school crush, and build a hilltop mansion for all to envy. But the reunion is not what he bargained for. Ava, now married to Henry, a handsome but chronically miserable man with another family on the side, is a bored bank teller, at her wits’ end trying to get pregnant after three miscarriages (and searching for solace on mommies2b.com). Meanwhile Ava’s mother, Sylvia, is overweight, tired of being married to a perennial cheater, and filling the void by taking weekly phone calls from a 25-year-old prisoner she’s never met who reminds her of her son. The book takes a beat too long to find its rhythm, but when it does, it hits home—and hard. Watts powerfully depicts the struggles many Americans face trying to overcome life’s inevitable disappointments. But it’s the compassion she feels for her characters’ vulnerability and desires— J.J.’s belief that he and Ava can work, Ava’s ache for a family, Sylvia’s wish to be seen and loved—that make the story so relevant and memorable. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/20/2017 Release date: 04/01/2017 Genre: Fiction
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