Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fiction | How Suicide Saved Zeke Cooper

As a Nashville native, I'm a sucker for any book with "Tennessee" in the title. This book's cover image also didn't hurt its chances that I would pick it up.

I grabbed Amy Franklin-Willis' The Lost Saints of Tennessee last year at PLA for both of the reasons listed above. The booth attendant also gave it a glowing recommendation. The story opens with 42-year-old Zeke ready to leave his hometown behind and eventually end his own life. There's a lot we don't know about Zeke, but we see little snippets that indicate there's way more to him—we just have to discover it.

Well, Zeke gets cold feet with the suicide plan, though unfortunately just after he fed his old loyal canine companion enough pills for successful murder-suicide pact—resulting in an emergency visit to the vet to pump pup's stomach. (Don't worry, he survives.) After this brush with death, Zeke decides to escape for a bit and returns some cousins' farm in Virginia that he hasn't visited since living there in college, twenty years earlier.

Here's what we know about Zeke: he's recently divorced, and his wife has remarried; he has two daughters, one of which, at this point, mostly hates him; his brother Carter died in a tragic incident over ten years prior; Carter was Zeke's best friend. All the back story is what we discover as we read. The novel is divided in a handful of parts, alternating between Zeke's perspective and his mother Lillian's perspective. We learn about the experiences and incidents that shaped both of these characters and influenced their decisions—and how those decisions had an affect on each other, often through miscommunications and misunderstandings. The Lost Saints of Tennessee isn't all about being trapped in the past, though; Zeke looks at his past experiences to help him start afresh, accept his life, and rebuild relationships.

I thought this was a great, uncomplicated read. It deals with some heavy situations, but they're never too bleak or burdensome. Zeke's story is more enjoyable to follow, because it ends up extending beyond just Zeke; his life involves those around him, which is what he eventually discovers gives his own life purpose and meaning. A good read for fans of family stories, characters with a history, and Southern lit. Steady-paced with heavy themes and an uplifting tone.

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