The Sky Club

Written by Terry Roberts
Review by Beth Kanell

A love story wrapped in a Depression-era moonshine-rich and jazz-bright adventure, The Sky Club is the fifth published novel from this native of western North Carolina’s mountains. Narrated from the point of view of 26-year-old Jo Salter, slender and plain-spoken and a whiz with numbers, this literary novel offers a new classic that turns the old coming-of-age story, with its losses and grief, into an old-fashioned garment. Jo’s losses are at the start of the book: “You could say that my life began with my mother’s death.”

After promising her mother that she’ll leave the constant labor of the mountain farm to make a very different life for herself, Jo heads to Asheville, North Carolina, for a bank job. With her gifts of numbers and math, she’s more than qualified for the work—and quickly begins to absorb the complex finances of moonshine-enhanced dance clubs, music, and men. She’s a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis at page 5—and from then on, this substantial book is all wings and flight and discovery, even when it’s on the nominally wrong side of the law.

Roberts mingles language of the natural world with the exultation of youth and risk and the tenderness of affection. “In making a life, what matters and what doesn’t?” Jo offers her own assessment of how she and Levi find the meaning of life together, in desperate times: “When the crash killed or crippled most people, Levi and I caught fire. Mountain bred and determined … doing something you enjoyed with someone you liked and understood, who understood you.” Stick with this long, rich novel, and reach the end feeling the pleasure of your own life more deeply.