This novel is filled with "intellectual writing" and this of course makes sense as the author is an English professor. I mean nothing by this, merely indicating the type of writing in the novel. A little bit more high-brow than many other novels.
The story is solid, sharing the friction found in mill towns between the workers dependent on the mill, and the owners that enjoy the profits. When a tragedy occurs in the town and in a rare turn of events the owners are blamed by the workers, the tension raises.
The story goes back in forth in time, from the actual event timeline to the present, looking back at the events with regret and what-ifs.
Story River Books
University of South Carolina Press
A mill bookkeeper's struggles with the morally ambiguous world of mill fortunes and foothills justice in the aftermath of a long-forgotten tragedy"All the men turned to watch the new widow depart, but not out of condolence. My gaze was a little too long and obvious. Her beauty was an open secret."
On a placid Blue Ridge mountain lake on Labor Day Weekend in 1935, three locals sightseeing in an overloaded boat drown, and the cotton mill scion who owns the lake is indicted for their murders. Decades later Ben Crocker—witness to and reluctant participant in the aftermath of this long-forgotten tragedy—is drawn once more into the morally ambiguous world of mill fortunes and foothills justice.
The son of mill workers in Carlton, South Carolina, Crocker is caught between competing loyalties to his family and future. Crocker wanted more than a rough-hewn life on a factory floor, so he studied accounting at the local textile institute and was hired as bookkeeper to the owner, George McCane, a man as burdened by his familial ties as Crocker and even less prepared for the authority of his mantle. McCane's decision to renovate the Carlton Mill and lay off families connected to the Uprising of '34, one of the largest labor strikes in U.S. history, puts Crocker in the ill-fitting position as his boss's enforcer. Days after the evictions, the surprise indictment lands McCane in a North Carolina mountain jail and sinks Crocker even deeper into the escalating tensions between mill workers and the owners.
While traversing mountain communities in McCane's defense, Crocker must also manage the forced renovation of the Carlton Mill, negotiate with labor organizers led by local hero Olin Campbell, collaborate with McCane's besotted brother, Angus, and fend off his father's and wife's skepticism of his own social aspirations. Hanging distractingly over Crocker's upended life is his burgeoning infatuation with Novie Moreland—the young widow of one of those McCane is accused of killing. Though unrequited, Croker's relationship with Novie proves to be a beacon of hope amid the shadows of political and social machinations in the darkest chapter in his long life.
As the union retaliates and the McCane murder trial is settled, it is uncertain who the winners and losers have been in this generational clash of workers and owners, labor and capital, those tied to the land and its people and those who exploit both. When Crocker looks back from 1988 at these two crucial years in his life in the mid-1930s, he is left to wonder if he did right by himself and those closest to him. Against all better judgment, Crocker knows he must seek out Novie Moreland once more if he is ever to find closure with the past.
Fate Moreland's Widow, the haunting first novel from award-winning poet, environmentalist, and storyteller John Lane, delves into historically inspired events of life, livelihood, death, and destiny against a rural Southern backdrop on the cusp of modernity. As Lane's nuanced characters contend with overarching questions of loyalty and responsibility, he leaves little doubt these vexing dilemmas of the past resonate still today. New York Times best-selling author and Gastonia, North Carolina, native Wiley Cash provides the novel's foreword.