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The Twelve-Mile Straight

By: Eleanor Henderson

Publisher: HarperCollins Trade

Imprint: Ecco

Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9780062422088

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Electronic | Audio | Trade Paperback

On Sale: | Pages: 560

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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 raping Elma, field hand Genus Jackson is lynched and dragged behind a truck down the Twelve-Mile Straight, the road to the nearest 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 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 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.
This is Henderson's second superb novel. The first, “Ten Thousand Saints,” was tighter, arguably more perfect, marred by a clunky epilogue but fantastic on almost every page and in most of its sentences. “The Twelve-Mile Straight” is a grander, meatier novel, as befits its subject matter. The tangled plot might be the stuff of melodrama, but so is American racial history. Besides, the writing is precise, not purplish.
—San Francisco Chronicle
Empathy for its troubled cast is one of the novel's great strengths; at its most insightful and compassionate, the sentences sing.... But Henderson's empathy isn't always adequate to the job of parsing her characters' experience.... Part of the problem here may be the novel's desire to correct the past, in a sense.... Beyond these larger social implications, there is the simpler matter of compromised plausibility and the danger of narrative convenience.... “The Twelve-Mile Straight” is well worth reading. It's a page turner, a novel to settle into. But good intentions can't replace its responsibility to the complexities of its subject matter. Heart-wrenching though it may be, diving into certain waters requires reckoning with the creatures in those depths.
—New York Times
If the plot feels a bit neat, it's rescued by Henderson's execution, which includes an acute eye for detail and ear for both dialogue and dialect. In 2011, The New York Times named Henderson's first novel, “Ten Thousand Saints,” one of the 10 best books of the year. “The Twelve-Mile Straight,” a masterful piece of storytelling that probes issues of injustice and race, is every bit its match.
—Seattle Times
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