The Lost Saints of Tennessee
In the changing South of a generation ago, Ezekiel Cooper struggles to find a true path through the dense jungle of his family’s feuds and secrets. The story ranges from a small town crippled by the economic destruction of the rural south to a prosperous horse ranch in Virginia; the cast of characters includes Ezekiel’s twin brother, mysteriously lost years before the story opens, his opinionated and cross-grained sisters, and his unscrupulous mother Lillian, who may be the novel’s best character.
It’s hard for me to see what purpose the author had in writing this novel. It opens with Ezekiel preparing to commit suicide and managing only to poison his dog; it goes downhill from there. The history of the Coopers is as grim as the House of Atreus, one bad thing after another, but there is no resolution, no moment of understanding, not even a place of peace Ezekiel in his painful struggle can come to and rest. The writing has no grace to overcome this constant drumbeat of failure and loss; this is not Faulkner, whose passionate skill could illuminate the humanity in the most debased and unforgiveable people. The book is told in present tense, increasing the sense of being stuck in some place that never gets any better. There’s a reason why these saints are lost, and in my opinion, they can stay that way.