Mary Byrd Thornton is minding her own business in Mississippi when a call comes through from a detective that is revisiting the murder of her step-brother over thirty years before. So far so good, exploring what an unpunished crime of this magnitude does to a family, how they deal with the impossible emotions that must come from such an awful event sounded ideal.
So Mary Byrd Thornton is summoned back to her home town in Virginia, to her mother, leaving her husband and their two children behind. A journalist is sniffing around the story too and poor Mary is struggling with being propelled back into that time when she was a teenager and some of the police were less than sympathetic dealing with the family. The thing is she has always believed they know who snatched Stevie from them.
Unfortunately for this reader the solving of this long ago murder is a mere bit part in what is on the whole a stream of consciousness about Mary Byrd Thornton’s life. Her friends, the truck journey she takes to Virginia, the alcohol she drinks, the affair she consider and her housekeeper Evagreen and this woman’s own troubles which are of a massive magnitude. The problem I have with this type of writing is that it never seems to get to the point, and quite frankly I get frustrated with the style fairly quickly.
There are a lot of interesting characters and I feel that for once I was able to understand a part of the world where although we speak the same language, the whole ‘feel’ of the place is quite unlike any that I know. There is insight into the plantation past and racial issues that were still firmly in place at the time the book was set in the 1990s. We get to look inside different types of houses, visit different families and even get a flavour of the local news. This is a book about a community with a defined culture and if that was what I thought I was reading about, then maybe my frustration wouldn’t have been quite so great.
One big positive is Mary’s approach to life so although I didn’t really get to know her despite the endless thoughts on breakable china, the mixed emotions of child-rearing, her inquisitiveness about her friend’s lives and her somewhat chaotic approach to housekeeping, it was clear that she isn’t a woman to take herself too seriously. She may pay lip-service to caring about other’s views of her but it doesn’t cause her to want to put too much effort into conforming. Her view of the loss of Stevie was also far more realistic than endless weeping and wailing that many novels offer of prolonged grief. There is a sense of guilt but again, not overwhelmingly so. This made sense when I got to the end and realised that in part the author has written the book about the unsolved murder of her own step-brother which seemed to give the book more context than I had previously given it credit for.
Despite being written in a style that doesn’t really appeal to me, there was a lot to enjoy in Flying Shoes and a book that has more impact in retrospect than perhaps it did while I was reading it.
Flying Shoes is my thirteenth read in my 20 Books for Summer 2018 Challenge