“When asked what defines 'Southern' literature, most would put land and family on the top of the list. These also define Eleanor Henderson's The Twelve-Mile Straight, a story set in the 1930s in Georgia, where George Wilson owns the cotton mill and most of the land and Juke Jessop is a sharecropper on land that wouldn't support his family, but his renown fills the gap. Full of entanglements, violence, and vivid characters, both white and black, this gripping saga starts with a lynching and weaves back and forth in time and voice until a stasis, if not resolution, is reached.”
— Ann Carlson, Waterfront Books, Georgetown, SC
*NAMED A BEST BOOK OF 2017 BY THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE*
*An Entertainment Weekly "Must-Read" Book for Fall*
From New York Times bestselling author Eleanor Henderson, an audacious American epic set in rural Georgia during the years of the Depression and Prohibition.
Cotton County, Georgia, 1930: in a house full of secrets, two babies-one light-skinned, the other dark-are born to Elma Jesup, a white sharecropper’s daughter. Accused of her rape, field hand Genus Jackson 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 fractured.
Despite the prying eyes and curious whispers of the townspeople, Elma begins to raise her babies as best as she can, under the roof of her mercurial father, Juke, and with the help of Nan, the young black housekeeper who is as close to Elma as a sister. But soon it becomes clear that the ties that bind all of them together are more intricate than any could have ever imagined. As startling revelations mount, a web of lies begins to collapse around the family, destabilizing their precarious world and forcing all to reckon with the painful truth.
Acclaimed author Eleanor Henderson has returned with a novel that combines the intimacy of a family drama with the staggering presence of a great Southern saga. Tackling themes of racialized violence, social division, and financial crisis, The Twelve-Mile Straight is a startlingly timely, emotionally resonant, and magnificent tour de force.
“Riveting...Henderson immerses you in characters worthy of Flannery O’Connor...A masterful piece of storytelling.”
“An absorbing epic of poor Georgia farm people and other folks they encounter in dicey, hardscrabble times. The elegant yet swift and crafty storytelling is spiked with so many surprises.”
“This is one of the most beautiful books, as an object, I’ve ever held. What’s inside is even more beautiful: beautifully told, beautifully written, a story that penetrates to the American heart, and all the light and darkness therein.”
“[A] superb novel whose roots can be traced to Harper Lee and Carson McCullers.”
“Affecting, profound...offers readers a rich, comprehensive portrait of the powerful forces at work in the Jim Crow South... Henderson does an incredible job.”
“This engaging, expansive novel manages to feel historical and, sadly, up to the minute as it probes the sins at the heart of the American experience...This is the kind of novel you sink into, live inside. When you’re finished, it will live inside you. A bravura performance.”
“Lyrical...mesmerizing, disturbing, and wonderfully persuasive. The world is brutal even as the landscape is lush and seductive...Unstinting in showing us the everyday savagery of Jim Crow, of poverty, and of family abuse. A riveting, consequential story full of complex secrets and unexpected turns.”
“One of the deepest and most nuanced explorations of our shared humanity that I’ve read...The writing is so extraordinary it will make your teeth ache; the story is so compelling that you may gasp out loud...This is no ordinary novel. It is art of the highest order.”
“A family drama, a mystery, a Southern Gothic, and a searing study of the complexities of race in America...Cotton County is a dark place, tortured by its own secrets, and it’s in Henderson’s expert hand and penetrating eye that those secrets are carried into light.”
“An intricate and fascinating tale of maternity and paternity, of race and blood, of two young women doing what they must do to survive...This is brave material, confronted with unblinking honesty and woven with intelligence and grace.”
“Henderson’s highly recommended title delivers a powerful tale of social complexity told in radiant and precise prose.”
“Totally immersing, provocative...The world of Twelve Mile Straight—the rural back road of this engrossing novel’s title, with its illegal distillery, chain gangs, and lynchings—will continue to haunt readers long after they finish the final page.”
“Doesn’t exclude the true horrors women and people of color faced in 1930s Georgia, these tragedies depicted through a fictional town with fictional characters, facing the same stakes and complicated pasts as the real town with real people. The work is raw, aching and concerning...dauntless...timeless.”
“Searing...The Twelve-Mile Straight takes readers to some remarkable places, always brought to life in Henderson’s lean, vivid prose.”