everyman: A Novel

Written by M. Shelly Conner
Review by Carrie Callaghan

“The south is syrup,” author M. Shelly Conner tells us in the prelude to her debut novel, everyman. When her protagonist, Eve Mann, arrives in a small Georgia town in 1972, time has moved more slowly there than elsewhere. This serves Eve, who is searching for the truth about the mother who died giving birth to her, and the father she never knew.

In a series of extended flashbacks, we learn about Eve (actually named Every), her Chicago upbringing, and the lives of family members and friends who help guide her path. Between her best friend Nelle, whose acknowledgment of her queerness alienates Eve, a charismatic young teacher who inspires Eve, and Eve’s mother-figure Ann, who keeps her own secrets, a rich story of Black history unfolds. Those characters and others experience the Black liberation and civil rights movements of the 1960s and ’70s, Jim Crow repression of earlier decades, and the Great Migration north.

The wide cast of characters and the depth of their stories make this a thought-provoking reading experience, though the digressive character studies and extended flashbacks may lose some readers. The mystery of Eve’s birth is largely eclipsed—intentionally, one suspects—by the bigger question of Black identity in 20th-century America. The novel offers memorable characters and important questions about the struggle for freedom and life, against the backdrop of slow Southern towns and one fast-paced northern city.