There is much to like about The Lost Saints of Tennessee by Amy Franklin-Willis. The main character is a 42-year-old man contemplating suicide, still grieving over the mysterious death of his twin brother ten years before and now an unhappily divorced father. Ezekiel Cooper is a flawed protagonist but an eloquent one.
Ezekiel has three sisters in addition to his dead twin, Carter, who suffered brain damage as a toddler and died as an adult under mysterious circumstances. Ezekiel is the child his mother, Lillian, expected to make something of himself and get out of Clayton, the small Tennessee town she has always felt stuck in. When Ezekiel left for college in 1960 and went to live in Virginia with his mother’s cousin, his mother made decisions that changed lives and that still form a barrier between Ezekiel and Lillian 25 years later.
Ezekiel’s flight from Clayton in 1985 to fulfill his vaguely formed suicide plan ends instead at that same Virginia farm of his college days. His brother’s ancient dog, Tucker, keeps him company on the trip. His troubled relationship with his mother is reflected in his awkward parenting of his own two teenaged daughters.
As seems to be a requirement of novels these days, the book jumps around in time, from the 1980s to the 1940s and various dates in between. The book is broken into three parts. The first and third are told by Ezekiel; the middle is told by his mother. (Oddly, her section does not have the date headlines that Ezekiel’s sections do.) Fortunately, the timeline jumps are pretty straightforward and I did not find them confusing.
Despite the title, the quotes from the Bible that appear before each part, and the biblical name of the main character, The Lost Saints of Tennessee is not an overly religious novel. The religious themes are not wielded like a club to make points throughout the story, which I found refreshing.
The author often turns a nice phrase. For example, when the mother is trying to justify an affair with her brother-in-law, she says, “I needed to believe someone still saw a spark in me, something that didn’t have to do with [my husband] or the children. Maybe that’s why most married people have affairs. Because the affair is separate from the family; it’s just about you. Of course, in the end, it winds up right back with the family.”
However, the book is not without its flaws. I found a romance between two of the characters unbelievable, unnecessary and indeed a drag on the plot; the book would have been better if the events could have played out without the romance. I also found the “big reveal” of the mysterious secret from the past to be very anticlimactic.
Still, The Lost Saints of Tennessee is well written, and it kept my interest to the end. If you enjoy novels that are more about character development than plot, I recommend The Lost Saints of Tennessee. It is scheduled to be released in February 2012.