THE AUTHOR: Amy Franklin-Willis
According to her bio, author Amy Franklin-Willis is an eighth-generation Southerner. “The Lost Saints of Tennessee” is her first novel and was inspired by her father’s stories of growing up in rural Pocahontas, Tenn. While Franklin-Willis now lives with her family on the West Coast, her writing is full of Southern flavor.
This book was impossible to put down — the intricate story is just that good. Ezekiel, one of two twin brothers, is the main character. We soon learn that Carter, the other twin, caught the measles at a young age, suffered brain damage, and was labeled “retarded” during the 1960s. Ezekiel is extremely close to his brother and would do anything to defend and to be with him. They have a special bond.
Ezekiel’s mother, Lillian, has five children, but does not seem to enjoy having so many of them. She views her life as constant chaos. This attitude later manifests itself through the way she treats Carter as an older child. She sees Ezekiel, in contrast, as a very smart boy, and insists and sees that he attends the University of Virginia. There Ezekiel misses Carter so badly that he writes him every day.
Ezekiel also has a high school sweetheart named Jackie. While Jackie is 15 she becomes pregnant with Ezekiel’s child, and Ezekiel thinks about how the baby will change their lives. Ezekiel’s parents are outraged by this turn of events, but you will have to read to find out what happens to their relationship as a result of this unplanned complication.
This book is enjoyable because it demonstrates, and somehow even celebrates, the wonderful normalcy of a small Southern town. The book takes you through the life of Ezekiel (later referred to as Zeke) from a small boy in the 1940s to a middle-aged man. He has to deal with his twin brother’s death and his overwhelming guilt when this happens. He doesn’t want to talk about the incident with anyone, and he feels responsible, even though he is not.
After the unplanned pregnancy, Ezekiel and Jackie marry and eventually have two girls. But the marriage doesn’t last. Ezekiel leaves college and works at the local elevator company for two years until he is fired because of a bad economy. Greatly frustrated, he simply packs his bags and heads out of town. His mother says he is running away.
He “runs” to the farm of his cousins, Georgia and Osborne, with whom he lived while in school at the University of Virginia. They have never been able to have children of their own, so they welcome him back with with open arms and say he is welcome to stay for as long as he wants. He helps on the farm and loves being with them.
Ezekiel even meets his across-the-street neighbor, Elle, who is a very pretty 30-year-old, a horse trainer and a divorcee. He is soon taking riding lessons and getting “schooled” by Elle in more than horses. They are extremely attracted to one another, one thing leads to another, and they are soon romantically involved.
So what could possibly bring Ezekiel back “home” to confront, and perhaps to resolve, the many loose ends of his past life?
Ezekiel’s Mother, Lillian, now in her 60s, contracts lung cancer. Because of the way she has treated Carter, Ezekiel hates his mother and has kept her at arm’s length. But when Lillian must have her cancerous lung removed, Ezekiel’s sisters goad him into returning to his home town for the surgery.
He visits his mother for a private talk with her the night before the surgery, but (perhaps to the typical reader’s surprise) he bypasses the obvious opportunity to tell her that he loves her and that he forgives her. He is unable to say the words and to get past his true feelings. You will have to read for yourself to see if he comes to regret this “lost” conversation or not.
During the trip home, Ezekiel learns that his ex-wife, Jackie, is now married to Curtis, the owner of the local car dealership. They have a big new house where Ezekiel’s and Jackie’s two daughters are living. He goes by to see his girls, and even though he has never been in the house before, Curtis (once again, perhaps to the typical reader’s surprise) invites him in to the living room to visit with everyone. His daughters miss him greatly, but feel that he abandoned them when he lost his job and left town so quickly. He hasn’t seen them for quite a while.
His 12-year-old, Honora, is in the middle of a crisis and is talking with no one. She is baking and baking, and when he goes in the kitchen to talk with her the conversation ends when Honora dumps a full bag of flour on his head. Once again, the reader is treated by this author to human behavior which is unexpected and unpredictable, but somehow realistic and believable as well.
It’s a refreshing change of pace from more predictable storylines and characters.
So I found this book extremely interesting, and at every pause it left me wanting to continue reading. I read it in two full days, but you could spread it out over a week’s nighttime reading and enjoy it thoroughly. Amy Franklin-Willis has done an excellent job with her debut novel, and I expect to see and to hear a lot more from her in the future. I would certainly read her next book with this one as my motivation. She is a talented storyteller and creator of characters.
This book receives 4 tiaras out of 5. I believe that you will greatly enjoy its many scenarios and intricacies, and especially the different human relationships and the interplay among its very different characters.
Buice, a Carrollton resident, writes a weekly book review for the Times-Georgian. anitabook.com.