It’s 1989 and 70-year-old Judith Kratt decides to create an inventory of her household and its valuables; the pie safe, the copper clock, the Tiffany lamp. As she catalogues each item they trigger memories and stories, which she also documents. And secrets.
Switching between her childhood as the eldest daughter of the most powerful white family in a small South Carolina cotton town, and present day where she lives in the family home with her black companion Olva, this novel is in turn a meditation on the significance of heirlooms and memory, and proof of the harm secrets can cause a family down the generations.
Judith’s myopic (willful?) misunderstanding of current white attitudes towards the black residents of the town are damaging not just to Olva but also to Olva’s friend Marcus and his daughter Amaryllis. But worse, they’re dangerous and lead us to realise that Judith may not be the most reliable of narrators. When Judith’s estranged sister, Rosemarie, reappears after more than fifty years, Judith’s attitudes are challenged, family ties questioned and Judith’s secrets exposed.
Even though the novel echoes the slower rhythms of the South, it is still well-paced and at times positively hums with tension. I don’t think I took a breath during the description of the mechanic, Charlie’s, last moments in town.
With echoes of Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Tartt’s The Little Friend and Stockett’s The Help, this is an exceptionally well-accomplished first novel. I can’t wait to see what Bobotis writes next.
With thanks to NetGalley for enabling me to read this pre-publication.