“…Presbyterian church, where some folks go to get right with the Lord and others go to be seen going.”
From Jeannette Walls, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Glass Castle, comes a riveting new novel about an indomitable young woman in Virginia during Prohibition.
Most folk thought Sallie Kincaid was a nobody who’d amount to nothing. Sallie had other plans.
Sallie Kincaid is the daughter of the biggest man in a small town, the charismatic Duke Kincaid. Born at the turn of the 20th century into a life of comfort and privilege, Sallie remembers little about her mother who died in a violent argument with the Duke. By the time she is just eight years old, the Duke has remarried and had a son, Eddie. While Sallie is her father’s daughter, sharp-witted and resourceful, Eddie is his mother’s son, timid and cerebral. When Sallie tries to teach young Eddie to be more like their father, her daredevil coaching leads to an accident, and Sallie is cast out.
Nine years later, she returns, determined to reclaim her place in the family. That’s a lot more complicated than Sallie expected, and she enters a world of conflict and lawlessness. Sallie confronts the secrets and scandals that hide in the shadows of the Big House, navigates the factions in the family and town, and finally comes into her own as a bold, sometimes reckless bootlegger.
You will fall in love with Sallie Kincaid, a feisty and fearless, terrified and damaged young woman who refuses to be corralled.
The 20s was such a tumultuous time in our country, flappers and Prohibition playing a major role until the Depression hit. Sallie Kincaid is the daughter of a wealthy land and business owner. He doesn’t just rule the home roost but the rural Virginia county folk as well.
Sallie Kincaid lost her mother when she was very young and was quickly sent away by her step-mother to live with a destitute aunt after an accident involving her little half-brother. The existence was hand to mouth during which time she did what she could to help her aunt buy food including scrubbing soiled sheets. When at last she is allowed to return to the family home nine years later following her step-mother’s death, she is blown over by the opulence, the size, and the enormity of the Kincaid holdings.
It’s not a bed of roses for Sallie, however, when additional family members make it clear she is there to help care for her brother. Unfortunately, given Sallie’s proclivities and her natural forthright habits and strong opinions, she appears to be more comfortable in an enforcer/collection position than that of nurturing. Through a series of unforeseen tragedies, she is suddenly thrust into the position of heading the Holdings.
The Holdings of course are driven by the illegal sale of spirits and who does a better job at making whiskey than these mountain people with their stills? But the mountain people have a stranglehold on their grudges as well as their illegal activities. (You’ve heard of the Hatfields and the McCoys?)
The novel tackles a number of issues from complicated family secrets and the woman’s position in the family to moral and religious passion, bootlegging, and gang wars. Sallie is a strong female protagonist. I applauded her triumphs and understood her attitude but hoped it would soften. It didn’t. It’s a complex and classic study of a culture peculiar to the area. I hoped for a better conclusion and was disappointed.
Nonetheless, the narrative is engaging and highly entertaining, the voice authentic not just to the time but to the geographical area. I loved hearing a few of those words I heard as a child—fun words like hifalutin. You just don’t hear those descriptive, clean words anymore. A couple of my favorite quotes:
“…the whiskey makers were always the heroes and the revenuers were always the villains.”
“…folks call it firewater, mule kick, tangle leg, ruckus juice, rise-n-shine, hooch, preacher’s lye, and panther piss…”
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author and publisher through @NetGalley that in no way influenced this review. These are my honest thoughts. Currently on pre-order.
Rosepoint Rating: Four Stars
Genre: Biographical Historical Fiction, Biographical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Print Length: 368 pages
Publication Date: March 28, 2023
Source: Publisher and NetGalley
The Author: Jeannette Walls was born in Phoenix, Arizona and grew up in the American Southwest and Welch, West Virginia. She graduated from Barnard College and was a journalist in New York for twenty-five years, writing for New York Magazine, Esquire, and MSNBC. Her memoir, The Glass Castle, has been a New York Times bestseller for more than eight years, has been translated into more than thirty languages and was made into a film starring Brie Larson. She is also the author of the best-selling novels The Silver Star and Half Broke Horses, which was named one of the ten best books of 2009 by the editors of the New York Times Book Review. Her new novel, Hang the Moon, will be published by Scribner in March 2023. Walls lives in central Virginia with her husband, the writer John Taylor.
©2022 V Williams