Book Review: Small town must face hard past in Watts' debut novel

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It's been 17 years since JJ Ferguson left his hometown of Pinewood, N.C. Now that he's returned (with a Gatsbyesque plan to build his dream home atop Brushy Mountain and reunite with his high school sweetheart, Ava), everyone is watching. While JJ builds, Ava tries desperately to have a baby with her tired, distant husband, Henry. Ava's mother, Sylvia, busies herself in the affairs of anyone who will listen, including her daughter, sister, husband and even a prisoner who's recently begun calling her. With JJ back in the picture, both women are forced to examine their lives in a new light in Stephanie Powell Watts' debut novel, "No One Is Coming to Save Us."

The story takes place against a post-integration small town America backdrop. While some townsfolk look forward to better days ahead, most are simply exhausted, especially when they compare their own situation with JJ's and his newfound wealth.

With an omniscient narrative, the author slips readers into the thoughts of the frustrated mistress staring out the window of her trailer, the wrinkled man with his eyes closed on the couch, the boy with no money wiping his face in the hot sun.

Watts drip-feeds readers a deliberate plot thick with dialogue and substance. A phrase, which on one page seems innocuous, reveals weighty truths down the road, and what first appears like disjointed lives bouncing off one another turns out to be relationships tethered together by history and heartache. Not all is weighed down, though. Conversations between Sylvia and her sassy-mouthed sister, Lana, provide brilliantly crafted, well-timed hilarity interspersed amid the surrounding despair.

The characters will draw you in, one tired sigh at a time. From their perspective, we're given a story about what happens when the past refuses to remain where we've buried it.


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