I’m on vacation in Florida, but brought Kentucky with me in book form, no where more startling than in Holly Goddard Jones’ first novel, The Next Time You See Me. One thousand miles from home, and yet the divisions and contradictions of home so clearly delineated in this haunting tale. Black and white, privileged and poor, educated and handicapped, youth and age, North and South.
The novel begins in an eighth grade classroom in rural Western Kentucky, somewhere near enough to the Tennessee border, that the residents of Roma can cruise across the state line on Friday and Saturday nights when they are in the mood for trouble. As in most eighth grade classrooms, the plain-but-kindly-and-intelligent-local (poor) child, Emily Houchens, has a crush on the wealthy, athletic, good looking newcomer, Christopher Shelton, who alternately loathes and feels compassion for her. Their teacher, Susanna is haunted by memories of her own high school years when she fell in love with the African-American baseball star (turned small town detective) but turned him down to marry the prissy, boring high school band director with whom she has a child.
Before too long, the teacher’s wild child sister goes missing. Implicated in the search are Tony Joyce, the detective, Wyatt Powell a co-worker of Emily’s father at a local factory, and Emily herself. Emily finds herself in the middle of several spokes of this interlocking wheel, due to her rather unfortunate attachment to two things: science experiments and Christopher Shelton.
Throughout the novel, the opposing poles of prejudice battle, at times literally and more often metaphorically.
. . . there had been a moment in Nancy’s not too long ago, when she’d caught the reflection of a good-looking, blond-haired younger guy in the mirror behind the bar and smiled flirtatiously, and it wasn’t that he’d rejected her or insulted her; she’d been insulted plenty of times in her life, and the guy who broke her nose five years ago had called her a troll, a dyke troll. It was that this young guy had not seen her. Or rather, he’d seen her, he’d registered the fact of her, but he’d dismissed her. it was instant and impersonal, and Ronnie had realized, with the kind of eerily accurate insight that occasionally dawns upon the drunken, that she seemed old to him.
I’ve read comparisons of this novel to Gone Girl, but other than a murder investigation, the plots are not similar. Jones’ writing is much deeper and more character-driven. The scenery is lush, tactile, evocative. She gets inside the minds of multiple characters, not just one or two, and tells their parts of the story from their own point of view. I was left wanting only to hear a little more from one point of view, but perhaps that would have ruined the book.
There’s a food fight in the book and for my book club, it would be mandatory to serve an upscale version of the food used. (with fingers crossed that it didn’t get thrown).
Salad with ranch dressing
Spaghetti with tomato sauce
The food fight involved pudding also, but I think I would avoid that and serve biscotti with some nice gelato.
And white wine, for Susanna.
MUSIC referred to in the book
Wichita Lineman, Glen Campbell
Mary Chapin Carpenter
And there’s always this good old Southern hymn: http://youtu.be/XTZOQcM9MgA