I can’t quite remember why I ordered this book from the library. Theresa Smith reviewed it back in 2019, and I think that I must have read a more recent review of it as well. It’s the debut novel of an American historical fiction author, Andrea Bobotis, who has a PhD in English Literature, and has published academic articles on Irish writers, as well as short stories. She teaches creative writing at Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver.
Perhaps I was attracted to its setting in the decaying, hard-luck town of Bound in South Carolina, where Judith Kratt, an elderly spinster, has been living in her family home all her life. It is 1989 and the quiet, if cluttered, domesticity of Judith and her African-American companion Olva is disturbed when Judith’s younger sister Rosemarie suddenly turns up. She had run away sixty years ago at the age of thirteen in 1929, just after her older brother Quincy, had been murdered.
Quincy’s murder is announced on the first page of the book, with an extract from the York Herald.
Quincy Kratt, aged 14, sustained a fatal gunshot wound to his person in the early hours of Friday, December 20. Young Mr Kratt was a scion of the cotton industry in Bound, South Carolina. His father, the influential businessman Brayburn Kratt, is one of our local captains of that industry. The principal suspect in the shooting is a negro called Charlie Watson, who is employed by the Kratt Mercantile Company and whose whereabouts are as yet unknown.
That Charlie Watson was responsible for the murder was local lore, but when Rosemarie returns in 1989, this certainty is unsettled. We can tell from Judith’s 1989 narrative that although Olva is a ‘companion’, there is a complex power imbalance here, only partially explained by colour. As the remaining matriarch of the Kratt family, Judith decides to compile an inventory of the objects within the family home, and these items trigger off memories from the past. Each chapter closes with an ever-growing list of objects, which have enhanced resonance for the reader after travelling with Judith back to the 1920s. These are not happy childhood memories. Her father, Brayburn, was a violent and mercurial man, who cultivates his son Quincy as a spy on the employees of Kratt Mercantile company, and who tries to coerce Judith into his racist activities as well.
This book is probably more heavily plotted than what I am used to reading, and at times I felt that some of the plot turns were a bit implausible. However, she captured well the insolent, swaggering menace of racism both in 1929 and 1989 and I liked the slightly stilted, rather self-serving narrative voice of Judith. It was well-researched too (says she who has listened to just one podcast about the South during the 1920s!) in capturing the economic decline of Southern towns prior to the Depression. The device of the ever-growing list of objects at the end of each chapter worked really well in highlighting both the uselessness of sheer objects, but also the freight of memories, both good and bad, that they carried.
My rating: 7/10
Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library as a large-print book. I wonder why it was only in that format.