Henderson, Eleanor. “The Twelve-Mile Straight: A Novel”, Ecco, 2017.
“An Audacious American Epic”
In 1930, in Cotton County, Georgia, 1930, there is a house full of secrets. There two babies, one light-skinned, the other dark, are born to Elma Jesup, a white sharecropper’s daughter. Field hand Genus Jackson has been accused of raping Elma and is lynched and dragged behind a truck down the Twelve-Mile Straight, the road to the nearby town. In the aftermath, the farm’s inhabitants are forced to contend with their complicity in a series of events that left a man dead and a family irrevocably torn apart.
Elma begins to raise her babies as best as she can, under her father, Juke’s roof and with the help of Nan, the young black housekeeper who is as close to Elma as a sister. She does so despite the prying eyes and curious whispers of the townspeople. It does not take long before we realize that the ties that bind all of them together are much more intricate begin to come forth, the lies that have surrounded the family begin to be exposed and the world becomes shakier as the family is forced to deal with the painful and shocking truth.
Themes of racial violence, social division, and financial crisis propel the story. Eleanor Henderson’s writing style pulls us into the story and I actually felt that the characters were standing around me as I read. Poverty, hate and prejudice as well as just plain evil surround Elma and her family and it is all very real. Having been raised in the South, I was aware that such things happened but I really never had to face them head on. Rape, lynchings, cowardice and violence make this a very intense read and while there are those who do the right thing, there are also many who do not. This is certainly no “Gone With the Wind” where love seems to hover above the plot. The book will be published in September