Everyone loves Jesmyn Ward’s new novel. Readers love it, critics love it, authors love it. Which makes me wonder what’s wrong with me.
It’s a handsomely-written modern take on the southern gothic ghost story but I find the universal fawning adulation a mite mystifying.
Leonie is a young black mother with a drug problem; Jojo her sensitive 13-year-old son. Together with Jojo’s younger sister Kayla they set off to pick up Leonie’s partner Michael from prison – each of them haunted by the past, figuratively and literally.
Its a family drama and a road novel and it has plenty to say: about race, poverty, drugs, prison and parenting. It’s relentlessly depressing, in other words, but for me lacked the power and pathos of a comparable novel like Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad.
I understand why modern American literature is so consumed with racial politics – but that doesn’t make it any less exhausting for the reader.