Courtesy of Beaverdale Books
by Catherine Rihm
By Amy Franklin-Willis
Atlantic Monthly Press
Southern author Amy Franklin-Willis delivers
with “The Lost Saints of Tennessee,” a poignant
debut novel that is as heartbreaking as it is
uplifting. She tells the compelling story of
the Cooper family, exploring the relationships
between its members as they confront illness,
death, loss and the changes that ensue.
We meet Zeke as he approaches his 42nd birthday.
Distraught over the death of his twin brother
10 years earlier, he still struggles daily with
the emotions. His ex-wife has recently remarried,
and he lives in a shack on his estranged mother’s
property. With future prospects seeming bleak,
Zeke loads his dead brother’s dog, Tucker, into
his truck and leaves his hometown of Clayton,
Lillian, his mother, has just learned she’s
gravely ill but is ready should death come.
Riddled with grief and guilt over the mistakes
she made in the past that gravely affected her
family and ultimately drove her remaining son
away, her story is gripping and sad.
Zeke’s journey after leaving town enables him
to confront his past and his own grief and guilt
surrounding the secrets and mysteries the family
held. Franklin-Willis wades through what it
means to be a family and how one can summon
the strength to forgive in order to find a way
to heal. With highly flawed yet likeable characters,
she calls to mind a little bit of the landscape
of Southern great Larry Brown, but with less
grit. Though the ending is wrapped up fairly
tidily, most readers may welcome the encouragement
after hauling through the characters’ grim stories.