Published February 2019 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: checked out from my local library
The Butler family has had their share of trials—as sisters Althea, Viola, and Lillian can attest—but nothing prepared them for the literal trial that will upend their lives. Althea, the eldest sister and substitute matriarch, is a force to be reckoned with and her younger sisters have alternately appreciated and chafed at her strong will. They are as stunned as the rest of the small community when she and her husband, Proctor, are arrested, and in a heartbeat the family goes from one of the most respected in town to utter disgrace. The worst part is, not even her sisters are sure exactly what happened. As Althea awaits her fate, Lillian and Viola must come together in the house they grew up in to care for their sister’s teenage daughters. What unfolds is a stunning portrait of the heart and core of an American family in a story that is as page-turning as it is important.
: a strong desire: craving
: to have an eager desire
“You do a lot of thinking in jail. Especially when you’re locked in the box that’s your cell. Mine is about as big as the walk-in closet that I had back at home, but in place of leather bags and sling-backs and racks of clothes, I’ve got bunk beds, a stainless-steel sink-and-toilet combo, and a compact, padlocked cabinet. The Cabinet’s where you keep your valuables, like family pictures, commissary, and letters, including the one from your daughter that’s not addressed to you. The letter that, truth be told, you just can’t bring yourself to read, so you’ve got it tucked inside the bible that belonged to your dead mother.”
The Butler family has never been the same since their mother died when Althea was just twelve and Lillian was a baby. Each of the sisters, and their brother Joe, suffer from her loss and the extended absences of their father in different ways. What makes this story different from the ways other authors might have written the same story is that each of these characters is hurting in a very realistic way without being over the top. Still Gray manages to hit on a lot of themes and issues: adultery, eating disorders, physical and substance abuse, mental illness, sexuality, communication, and family relationships. Every one of the family members had their own hunger, their craving they were trying to sate; for some of them, trying to do so elicited a great price, the end of a marriage, an eating disorder, prison.
The sisters take turns telling the story of their family and how it has wreaked havoc on their lives. Althea is the least likable of the sisters but her story is compelling has you try to figure out why she came to commit the crime that has landed her in jail. Lillian is the saddest, the most vulnerable, and the sister you can’t help but hope will finally find the love she has been yearning for and exorcise the demons of her youth. I was utterly caught up in the lives of this family and so wanting them to finally communicate and find their way to becoming a healed family. Gray has written an impressive debut.
I have read so many books I have loved lately and recently updated my “best of 2019” list but it’s clear that I’m going to need to update it again because this book needs to be added to the list. In fact, 35 pages in, I knew it was going to be a book I wanted to talk to other people about and added it to my book club’s list of books to read for 2020.