Marty Seaney's Reviews > The Lost Saints of Tennessee

The Lost Saints of Tennessee by Amy Franklin-Willis
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Aug 11, 12

liked it

This is a Southern novel from its honeysuckle cake to its 33 year old mentally challenged character, tapping into icons like Boo Radley and Benjy Compson and Paula Deen with one fell swoop. Oh, and there's a stinky hound dog to boot.

A gothic plot arcs its way throughout lives of well-meaning, doomed types that find both predictable solace and sadness in Johnny Cash and Dolly, Lucky Strikes, and teen pregnancies. Despite all of this the novel works for the most part because you care about the characters and what happens to them in their quest to overcome their doomed existence and the trite trimmings that weigh them down. Zeke, Jackie, Lillian, Honora, and even Tucker feel like real people/dogs who suffer and survive both despite each other and because of each other.

Carter's story was touching, but his demise didn't quite live up to its suspended telling. Benjy's final wailing and John Singers's demise will never be matched. Somehow the Southern novel needs to rise and move beyond this type of gothic rerun.

We really don't need to politely sit through a sweltering summer's day as Rosa Coldfield/ Lillian demand we listen to a story, her version, the really sad one to counter either what we are going to hear or what we have heard about the tragic events that doomed them all. The re-telling does not add any new layers of meaning or understanding, nor does it imbue the story with a latticed structure that speaks to the deep history of its characters and the land that holds them captive. It actually just distracts one from the energy of the main narrator, Zeke.
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Sylvia It was hummingbird cake, not honeysuckle :)

Marty Seaney Oh. Well no wonder you rated at 5 stars. :)

Sylvia Haha nah... I rated at five stars because I very much enjoyed it :) The book, that is, not the hummingbird cake. I gather you didn't... No point arguing over taste.

Marty Seaney I am glad you enjoyed the novel. There were some parts of novel I enjoyed. I am a huge Southern novel fan; so, I might be too particular and demanding in my expectations. And I probably shouldn't be too harsh or critical of such efforts. It's just that Faulkner, Porter, McCullers, Welty, etc. are hard to follow. Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry, Ellison have forwarded these different narratives into new terrains and time periods with similar issues and captivating characters. Again, though I should recognize the
positives in this novel; not dwell on the rest of the things that hampered my full enjoyment of novel.

message 5: by Sylvia (last edited Sep 01, 2014 02:14PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sylvia Hm, I don't think there's a "should" when it comes to reading and enjoying, or not enjoying, or somewhat-enjoying, what one is reading.

Reading is a very subjective thing, isn't it... it's never just about the book only. It's about how that text in front of our eyes relates to our experiences and expectations; to other books we've read and to what we know, or how we feel, about the world and ourselves within it.

I haven't read any of the authors you mention, so I read "The Lost Saints" on its own merits, not as a follow-up to others who came before; not as a response or imitation. I wasn't comparing it to other literature, but there were many scenes in the book that spoke to me about things I could relate to.

Not that I've literally experienced anything the main characters are going through, mind you. But there were thoughts and images and situations and forks in the road and missed opportunities which very much evoked moments in my own life, and the way in which Ms. Franklin-Willis described them gave me pause, or goosebumps at times. Her words are well-chosen and, in my opinion, beautifully put together.

Perhaps there are other authors who did a better job of writing a "Southern novel," but I wasn't looking to read a "Southern novel" when I picked up her book. I was just looking for a good book to read, and that it was, to me.

I suppose I don't think in categories as much as other readers. I read across genres, looking for that connection that you can sometimes get when a writer says just the right things. I want the words to rise off the pages to form a forest or a ship or a house I can see with my own eyes, and people whose words I can hear in my mind. I want to laugh out loud when something is funny, and I want to tear up when something sad happens. I want to find myself wondering what I would have done. I want to become a part of the book I'm reading, to get sucked into the story. When I'm done reading, I want to miss the people I was reading about, and feel homesick about the places I went to in my mind. Whether the book is fantasy or a mystery or a Southern novel, eh, doesn't matter to me.

Sylvia By the way, Marty... in response to your review: I personally very much felt that Lillian's voice added new layers of meaning or understanding to the story. We all have a way of seeing only our own version of the truth, sometimes to the point where we do real damage to people and things we care about, out of blind self-righteousness even though we don't mean any harm. I thought that the gap between Zeke's and Lillian's perception of their family's history really illustrated this well.

Marty Seaney Sylvia, good to hear that the novel worked for you. It's been quite awhile since I read it, so all of the characters and particular aspects of the narrative that you admired are not readily present to me. Lately, I have been reading historical accounts and stories. I believe I have purposely stayed away from fiction for a number of reasons. One I have spent most if my life studying or teaching it. Two, I have run into too many dystopian accounts and narratives and downright nasty characters in the recent flurry of new releases. Thirdly, I haven't really encountered any new voices or stories that just make me want to keep turning the page. Also, I wandered back to Faulkner and just recently Dante. I think I'll stay there for a bit. I have really enjoyed hearing about the way you approach a story and the honest connections and insights that you reveal to me. Your last comments would serve as excellent review for this author. When I say that I wish that I had not been so harsh or judgmental with this author's efforts, I was thinking about how hard it is to write down a story and how hard it is to listen to others critique and criticize your efforts. Often a writer lives with those characters the stories they create for them. In a way they are their children. And after rereading my comments I was a bit ashamed of my judgements or rush to compare the author's efforts to others. Keep reading and enjoying.

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