Nonny is used to being in the middle. Her birth mother was a Crabtree (low-class, prone to violence, owners of Dobermans and scary Alabama relatives), but she was adopted by the Fretts (solid middle-class, reined-in, icy types, prone to their own kind of violence). The tiny town of Between is barely big enough for these two sparring clans.
When Nonny’s aunt is attacked by one of the Crabtree dogs, a whole new cycle of feuding is set off. This time it could be deadly. Nonny, herself in the middle of a divorce, finds herself back in Between (and in between) once again.
Whenever I’m in the mood for a novel with a solid story, a great sense of place, and robust characters, I go for Jackson’s work. She writes relationships extremely well, particularly between women in a family–she has real insight into the dynamics of sisters, mothers and daughters, and grandmothers and their grandkids.
The Frett sisters, who raised Nonny, really are forces–stolid, judgmental but loyal Bernese, anxious and fretful Genny, and kind and artistic Stacia, the one who raised Nonny. Stacia is deaf and blind, as well, adding another layer to her relationship to her family and her art. Ona Crabtree, Nonny’s blood grandmother, comes across as damaged and brittle and not very nice, but she’s still got a basic humanity. As becomes clear over the course of the story, these women have more in common than they like to believe.
The Southern setting is great as well. It feels as though these characters, though recognizable small-town types, couldn’t live anywhere else. And of course the town is a character all on its own, just as Southern as its people. There’s a sort of earthy fierceness beneath a veneer of gentility that’s just so distinct to the South, along with a strong sense of family. This story would be very different if set among we stoic, independent, chilly New Englanders, for instance.
This really is a novel to read for the characters and the setting. The plots do all wrap up nicely and there are some revelations and tragedy, but I found the enjoyable storyline second to everything else.
If you’re after the same sort of read I was–one with great characters, a good story, and a strong setting, all told in laidback, very natural prose–give this one a look!