320 pages- Hardcover- Atlantic Monthly Press- Feb.
Ezekiel Cooper (Zeke) is at the end of his rope when “The Lost Saints Of Tennessee” begins. He is 42 years old, divorced, in a dead-end job, and without hope for the future. It is August, 1985, and the dog days of summer have hit the south hard.
Franklin-Willis tells this very Southern tale in Zeke’s melancholy voice. Except for a small portion in the center where Lillian, Zeke’s mom, finally gets a chance to speak out.
Pat Conroy says the writing reminds him of Dorothy Allison’s “Bastard out of Carolina.” I have to agree. Franklin-Willis manages to capture the shear essence of the south in a refreshing yet coarse way.
I found myself slowing down after the first chapter. I didn’t want to miss anything. Wasn’t so sure about it. Didn’t like where a situation with my favorite character was going. Tucker is a hound dog way past his prime. I took to him immediately. Animal lover that I am, I took Tucker under my wing. But once through this difficult chapter, I ran with it.
Even though the story travels back and forth in time within a forty year period, it was done in such a way that I was able to follow it nicely. The pace was smooth and the tone was propitious.
Zeke has two teenage daughters with his ex-wife. Are they problematic? What do you think? They’re teenagers for heavens sake. And he rarely sees them. His ex-wife has recently married, and married up. Zeke is feeling pretty darn useless these days. So, he decides to leave the small town he has always lived in.
Carter was Zeke’s brother. As a toddler, he contracted measles and almost died; was in a coma for a long time and ended up “not right.” But Carter and Zeke were twins. They were always together. Until they weren’t.
The Cooper women were fighters. They were strong. But they struggled to get out of Clayton, the small town, they were stuck in. Zeke’s mom found herself pregnant with his oldest sister at the age of fifteen. Stuck. His sister, Vi, repeated the deed. Awful things happened in these tender lives.
I still have to go with Tucker as being my favorite character in the book. I found myself perking up at the mere mention of the guy. When his tail was batting back and forth, I was smiling. I’m glad I read this novel. Anyone wanting good old Southern writing will find it a quick read. But I will say I was a bit disappointed with Zeke. I think his character could have been stronger. And I will look forward to Franklin-Wallis’s next novel.