Cotton County, Georgia, 1930: in a house full of secrets, two babies – one light-skinned, the other dark – are born to Elma Jesup, a white sharecropper’s daughter. Accused of her rape, field hand Genus Jackson is lynched and dragged down the Twelve-Mile Straight, the road to the nearby town.
Despite the prying eyes and curious whispers of the townspeople, Elma begins to raise her babies as best as she can, under the roof of her impulsive father, Juke, and with the help of Nan, the young black housekeeper who is as close to Elma as a sister. It soon becomes clear that the ties that bind all of them together are more intricate than any could have imagined. A web of lies begins to collapse around the family, destabilizing their precarious world and forcing all to reckon with the truth.
Reviews of The Twelve-Mile Straight
‘A rich, complex narrative that moves skilfully back and forth in time, unfolding the histories and secrets of those involved. The wounds of America’s racial past have provided the subject for some excellent novels in recent years and Henderson’s book is an impressive addition to their number’ The Times
‘Eleanor Henderson is a novelist who is clearly suited to the expansive mode, and her labyrinthine plot never wants for twists and turns. Nuanced and compassionate, hers is a sweeping tale of uncompromising brutality, which is finally offset by a faint, but hugely welcome, glimmer of light’ Daily Mail
‘An ambitious and sprawling Southern Gothic tale’ Emerald Street
‘Riveting … plunges you into the Jim Crow South with stunning fierceness … Henderson immerses you in characters worthy of Flannery O’Connor … A masterful piece of storytelling’ Seattle Times
‘Devastating … Filled with twists and turns, this book gives an intimate and heartbreaking look at America’s ugly history of racial violence’ Shondaland
‘Affecting, profound … this story resonates deeply in our current political climate’ Nylon
‘Provocative and important … These stories linger under the skin … Henderson puts the stories of African-Americans back into the narrative … The Twelve-Mile Straight, although shouldering complicated themes in history, is a timeless novel’ Ithaca Times
‘The characters are so vivid that you will feel as though they exist unbound by the pages of the book; the writing is so extraordinary it will make your teeth ache; the story is so compelling that you may gasp out loud—as I did—as the revelations unfold. This is no ordinary novel. It is art of the highest order’ Cristina Henríquez
‘An intricate and fascinating tale of maternity and paternity, of race and blood, of two young women doing what they must do to survive … confronted with unblinking honesty and woven with intelligence and grace’ Christopher Tilghman