Friday, December 27, 2013

Lookaway, Lookaway

Lookaway, Lookaway
Author: Wilton Barnhardt
St. Martin's Press, 2013
368 pages

I first heard about Lookaway, Lookaway from a review in one of our local magazines back in the spring, just prior to the book's release. I knew I'd read it since it's set in Charlotte, a city I know well from living here in the mid-1980s and again since 2010. The author is a North Carolina native.

Lookaway, Lookaway focuses on the Johnsons, an "old Southern money" family living in the Myers Park neighborhood of Charlotte. For those of you who don't know Charlotte or its neighborhoods, Myers Park is an affluent area just south of downtown where the average home price is over $700,000. It's a beautiful, with broad avenues shaded by huge old oak trees. In other words, the perfect location for a family like the Johnsons with their Civil War gun collection, fancy monogrammed silverware and dinner parties.

The family is led by the very determined Jerene, whose sole responsibilities seem to be: 1) keeping up appearances and 2) overseeing the family's art collection at The Mint Museum. Her husband Duke, an attorney who hasn't worked in years, is obsessed with a Civil War-era ancestor and with participating in Civil War re-enactments. Their four adult children are as different as night and day and each have their own struggles. Annie, the eldest, is an overweight, loud-mouthed rebel who wants nothing to do with her family's wealth. Joshua is gay but deep in the closet. Bo is a minister on an upward trajectory in his denomination and a wife who feels more comfortable feeding the hungry than dealing with church politics. And Jerilyn, the youngest, is a sorority girl who feels like she's the only one left who can possibly take her mother's place as the family matriarch.

Two other characters who add a lot of spice to the story are Jerene's brother Gaston, an alcoholic who writes Civil War-era romance novels, and Dorrie, Joshua's best friend. Gaston and Duke have been best friends for decades; Dorrie, who happens to be African-American and a lesbian, often stands in as Joshua's girlfriend.

Each chapter is written from the perspective of a different character, starting with Jerilyn, whose story about leaving home to attend the University of North Carolina immediately pulled me in.

The author clearly knows Charlotte, and isn't shy about inserting references to the city's rapid growth and the impact this is having on the environment as well as the culture. Lookaway, Lookaway puts a mirror in our faces and what we see in the reflection is Change with a Capital C. If you're a fan of southern fiction, you won't want to miss this one.