I hate star ratings. I gave this novel three – wait! Don’t go! See? That’s what happens with stars, we skip twos and threes and go looking for fours and fives. But literature, like life, is a lot of threes and you shouldn’t skip them over because threes are solid, quality, “likes”. To me three stars means I liked this book well enough to finish it and I will read this author again. (Four stars is I really like the book and thought about it all day when I wasn’t reading it. Five stars is I love this book and it’s going to a desert island with me.)
After a mishap on a fire-fighting crew Jay returns home to recuperate in the company of her father, sister-in-law, and autistic nephew. Bufford alternates between the present and 1983, when 12-year old Jay is forced to stay with her rigid grandmother after her mother runs away from rehab and a stint in jail. In an effortless transition from Jay the girl to Jay the woman, we follow a lost child as she becomes a lost adult.
There is a persistent tension in the present scenes from Jay’s outings with her teenaged nephew and his Jesus-idolizing, brain-damaged friend. Both are large, volatile, pubescent young men and the book reads like a car wreck about to happen. You brace yourself, squeeze your eyes shut, and wait for the impact. With characters that include a junkie mother, dead brother, autistic nephew and his violent friend, one would expect the impact to be devastating, but Bufford’s eventual wreckage brings hope rather than despair.
I think I saw this book mentioned on a lesbian literature forum so I assumed it was lesbian fiction. I read, waiting for a relationship to develop, but it’s not a lesbian book at all, just a good story about people who are deeply flawed, richly human, and coming to grips with life on life’s terms.
Baxter, thanks for the review. My book Minus One has a lesbian protagonist; it will be released by Untreed Reads as an ebook later this month.