Monday, July 29, 2013

Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt

Duke and Jerene Johnston are the best of the best society has to offer in Charlotte, North Carolina. Duke is a Southern gentleman, a lawyer and former city councilman known for his relation to the famous Civil War general who spared North Carolina from Sherman's March To The Sea. Jerene is an old style Southern lady, the kind who puts on a designer dress and full makeup to go outside to pick up the newspaper and who has iron control of her emotions. She is the head of the Jarvis Trust, an organization set up to safeguard the art her family brought to Charlotte and donated to the museum.

They have four children. Annie is the rebel, a real estate broker who is riding high on the real estate boom. Bo is the first son with all that means in a Southern family; after a successful high school and college career, he has become the pastor of a Presbyterian church in nearby Stallings. Joshua is the gorgeous one, a clothes salesman who doesn't have career aspirations and is gay, although that is never discussed at family gatherings. Jerilyn is the baby of the family, and determined to win her mother's approval, whatever that takes.

Barnhardt sets up this family as what seems from the outside to be a successful group who have it all, then methodically peels aside the family deceptions and oversights to reveal the secrets that have been kept, sometimes for decades. The book is laid out in biographical chapters, one devoted to each character. In it, all secrets are revealed as are the relationships that keep the family going. The writing is humorous, tragic, surprising and magnificent as the family and the Southern society they live in are stripped for all to see.

Wilton Barnhardt is a faculty member in the Creative Writing program at North Carolina State University and knows his material well. Residents of the area will nod their head in recognition of the characters and the culture he depicts. The reader will be entranced, reluctant to get off the wild wonderful ride that he has created. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and Southern fiction fans.

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