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The Twelve-Mile Straight: A Novel by Eleanor…

The Twelve-Mile Straight: A Novel (original 2017; edition 2017)

by Eleanor Henderson (Author)

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1454124,105 (3.7)11
Title:The Twelve-Mile Straight: A Novel
Authors:Eleanor Henderson (Author)
Info:Ecco (2017), Edition: First Edition, 560 pages

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The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson (2017)



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I'm on the brink of giving it a 4, but I'm going with 3. The premise is a little bait and switch-y, and the span of the story is almost too sprawling. At some points I felt a little tricked by the hidden backstories of the characters. All that said, I enjoyed reading it and found it interesting. Also weird that it's the second book I've read in the span of ten days where Sickle Cell plays a major role. ( )
  Katie_Roscher | Jan 18, 2019 |
Oh my, incest, moonshine, sharecropping, KKK, lynching, twins (one white, one black), chain gangs and everything else bad about 1920’s Georgia. It is all here along with a meandering timeline, numerous plots and sub-plots and the “N” word. If this sounds exhausting – it is. There is just soooo much going on in this 540 page tome that it is WORK to read it.
There is an interesting and valuable story here. The characters include a moonshining sharecropper with a problematic background, a teenaged daughter and a teenaged live-in black “maid.” Juke (the sharecropper/moonshiner) hires a black male farmhand. The farmhand has a relationship with both daughter and maid. Daughter has a relationship with the farm owner’s son that ends badly. Both teens are pregnant. The farmhand is lynched and dragged down the twelve-mile straight roadway to the delight (for a time) of the entire town. The son is accused of the murder and disappears – and that is just the beginning section of the book.
The characters are clearly drawn. The time and place are well defined. The situations are believable. But the whole thing is sooo long and the time meanders from before to after and back again with no clear delineation. The final resolutions are clear and satisfying. Dates at the start of each event would be helpful. A little (a lot?) of editing would help.
3 stars for length and confusing timeline ( )
  beckyhaase | Jul 25, 2018 |
One of the great joys of reading is discovering an debut author whose work just blows you away. Eleanor Henderson did that to me with her 2011 novel Ten Thousand Saints, set in 1987 New York City and Vermont. It is such an amazing book (made into a movie in 2015), I put it on my Most Compelling Books of 2011 list.

I was thrilled to hear that Henderson would be at the Book Expo this year signing copies of her followup novel, The Twelve-Mile Straight. I was first in a long line of people, all eager to tell her how much we loved Ten Thousand Saints and how we couldn't wait to read this new one.

Eleanor Henderson at the Book Expo

The setting for The Twelve-Mile Straight is a small town in Depression-era rural Georgia in 1930. Young Elma Jessup gives birth to two babies- one black, one white. Her daughter is the child of the grandson of the wealthy man who owns the farm that her sharecropper father Juke works. Elma and Juke accuse a young black man who works for Juke, Genus Jackson, of raping Elma resulting in Elma's son.

Juke, who made moonshine on the side that he sold to men in the town, convinced others to join him in making Genus pay by lynching him, dragging his body behind a truck and leaving it in the road in town. The death scene is horrific, and we soon learn that there is more to this story.

Elma's mother died when she was a baby, and Elma was raised by Ketty, their black housekeeper. Ketty's daughter Nan grew up with Elma, and they were best friends, even though Elma went to school and Nan worked with Ketty, eventually learning from her how to be a midwife.

As the story unfolds, we find out that there are many secrets in this house, secrets that will affect everyone who lives there for years to come. People are curious about Elma's two babies, and their two different fathers, and Elma eventually meets a doctor, Oliver, who wants to study this unique phenomenon.

Oliver is a terrific character; he suffers from polio and he wants to be a research doctor. He is fascinated and compassionate towards Elma and her babies. There is a couple, Sarah and Jim, who came from up North and work on Juke's land. Why they are there is a mystery, but they provide company for Elma, for which she is grateful. And gentle, quiet Genus is such a sweet young man, his murder is devastating.

There are some powerful scenes in the story, including a baptism for the babies, where several townsfolk turn out believing that at least one of the babies "has the devil in him." Oliver's memory of his time spent on a ship filled with other polio patients because people feared catching polio was heartbreaking.

Henderson creates such a sense of time and place, you can feel the blazing summer sun and see the dust kicking up on the twelve-mile straight road. The reader is transported to this world, one that she conjured from stories her father told of his growing up, one of eight children born to a sharecropper.

Her writing is so precise, it feels like she worked to craft the perfect sentence for each paragraph. I got so lost in The Twelve-Mile Straight that frequently I found myself completely tuning out my surroundings, losing all track of time and place.

But it is the relationship between Elma and Nan that is at the heart of this emotional, moving story. The two women are as close as sisters, but it is the secrets between them that drive the momentum of the book to its shattering conclusion.

I highly recommend The Twelve-Mile Straight, and if you haven't read Ten Thousand Saints, pick that one up too. I'm not the only one who feels this way, The Twelve-Mile Straight has made many Best of Fall lists. ( )
1 vote bookchickdi | Sep 17, 2017 |
The Twelve-Mile Straight is all about secrets, more secrets than you can shake a stick at. Folks might expect there would be some secrets when Elma Jesup delivered two babies, one white and one black. The scandal is compounded by a rape accusation and the lynching of a black field hand named Genus Jackson by a mob that was led in part by Juke Jesup, Elma’s father, and Fred Wilson, the grandson of the local seigneur (mill owner and land owner) upon whom everyone is financially dependent.

This is also the story of a lifelong friendship between Elma, the sharecropper’s daughter, and Nan, the daughter of a former field hand Sterling who left long ago and his wife Ketty who was friends with Elma’s mother and who took care of Elma when her mother died in childbirth. These two grew up as close as sisters. It’s a bond that ties them together and which leads them to carry on with the secrets.

This is a southern gothic novel so it will be stewed in racial horrors, economic injustices, and corruption. There will be violence, sexual assault, and Jim Crow will wave his blood flag all over. There is one thing that rings false, though. It’s 1931, the lynch mob is all white, the field hand is black, yet somehow the young man flees afraid of prosecution for murder. That is so unlikely. One of the benefits of Jim Crow was impunity. Add the economic levers his grandfather wielded and her has more than impunity.

I think The Twelve-Mile Straight is beautifully written. Henderson enriches the story with powerful visual imagery and writes for all the senses, with details that evoke the sights, sounds, smells, flavors, and feeling of the time and place. Most of the characters are morally complex. Even those we might perceive as evil have flashes of decency and those we might perceive as heroic their flaws and weaknesses. The great strength of this book, though, is the writing. Henderson has this oblique way of dropping information so her sentences just sidle up to you and unload these explosive revelations as they pass by, looking all innocent. It’s really quite remarkable and worth reading for that alone…and when you get a character like Nan and even Elma, on top of it…you’ve hit the jackpot.

The Twelve-Mile Straight was released yesterday. I was provided an e-galley for review by the publisher through Edelweiss.

The Twelve-Mile Straight at Harper Collins
Eleanor Henderson author site

http://tonstantweaderreviews.wordpress.com/2017/09/13/9780062422088 ( )
1 vote Tonstant.Weader | Sep 13, 2017 |
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"[A] novel set in the south during the Great Depression that takes an entirely fresh view on big American themes-- race, heredity, inequality, shame-- set in a time of financial crisis and racialized violence"--

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