“An accurate and heart-wrenching picture of the sensibilities of the American South.” Kirkus Book Reviews
The heart has a home when it has an ally.
If Millie Crossan doesn’t know anything else, she knows this one truth simply because her brother Finley grew up beside her. Charismatic Finley, eighteen months her senior, becomes Millie’s guide when their mother Posey leaves their father and moves her children from Minnesota to Memphis shortly after Millie’s tenth birthday.
Memphis is a world foreign to Millie and Finley. This is the 1970s Memphis, the genteel world of their mother’s upbringing and vastly different from anything they’ve ever known. Here they are the outsiders. Here, they only have each other. And here, as the years fold over themselves, they mature in a manicured Southern culture where they learn firsthand that much of what glitters isn’t gold. Nuance, tradition, and Southern eccentrics flavor Millie and Finley’s world as they find their way to belonging.
But what hidden variables take their shared history to leave both brother and sister at such disparate ends?
Moments after the cathedral front doors banged open, I heard a commotion downstairs followed by the clatter of hard heels tapping across the black-and white tiled entrance hall, until they fell cat-like to a muted padding across the parlor and ended with a clatter in the adjoining card room.
I crept down the serpentine front stairs to see Finley pushing through the beveled glass doors that partitioned the entrance hall from the back hallway. Finley and I had an uncanny, almost telepathic way of pursuing the same moment.
We looked at each other wordlessly, listening to the cawing of Stella Richmond from the big Tudor house across the street, who’d come to fetch her husband home. It was ten o’clock on a Tuesday night. Earlier Danny Richmond had taken it upon himself to walk across the street and chivalrously offer his assistance to the unmarried Posey for whatever she may need, right in the middle of the cocktail hour.
Hours transpired, the sun had set, dinner had been forgotten, and there the two sat, drinking and chatting as if they had all the time in the world. “Danny Richmond, how dare you? And how dare you, Posey?” Stella raged, glaring at her husband. “You get yourself home right now, and I’m not speaking to either of you any time soon after what you’ve put me through.” Stella Richmond was not the kind of woman who ever meant “maybe,” and her sphere of not speaking came to include Finley and me.
Many months passed before she looked either of us in the eyes without suggesting our guilt by association, and for a while I innocently assumed word of that episode had ricocheted among the twenty-six homes in Kensington Park, which I thought explained others’ cold glances. I had no way of knowing similar episodes had transpired, with wandering husbands in search of my mother. She probably should have discouraged the attention instead of soaking it in.
If she had, she might not have lost her childhood best friend, Shuggs, whose only contribution to the rift was telling her husband that Posey was looking for a new car. The ways of the South, I was to learn, were such that upon hearing word of a single woman in need, the only gentlemanly thing to do was offer assistance, which is exactly what Virgil did, to his wife’s tufted pride.
For the first week, Shuggs was magnanimous and happy her husband could help. She yielded agreeably when he went to Kensington Park after work instead of coming straight home. Shuggs reported the arrangement to all her friends, and basked in the recognition she received for the security she enjoyed in her foolproof marriage.
But as time stretched on, her goodwill became tested. She avoided the clock and battened down her emotional hatches as the weeks multiplied, and tried to talk herself into justifying the cocktails Virgil stayed for after making the dealership rounds. This worked until the schedule became a habit and her benevolence wore thin. By the fourth week, Shuggs had lost compassion. By the fifth week, she had none at all.