Monday, May 31, 2021


Author:  Jill McCorkle
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2020. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1616209720 / 978-1616209728

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Lately, Shelley hears things in the middle of the night, hinges creaking and papers rustling, but it could be anything - the dog, her son, a mouse, the wind - and she forces her mind to stop right there so she doesn't imagine possibilities that would terrify her, like a killer or a ghost."

Favorite Quote:  "X marks the spot. You are here. And x equals the unknown, what is missing, a mistake, as well as a kiss."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


This story is like a memory. It entices and draws in with a glimmer here and a shape there only to slip away into the unknown. It remains nebulous and just beyond reach of complete comprehension. It is unclear where reality and perception blend for any of these characters.

This book is not plot driven for the chapters are more like vignettes. Events presented are not from the same perspective and jump through time and place, at times with no connection at all. This book is also not exactly a character study. For me, the characters never quite become clear or whole.

At its base, this is the story of four individuals. Frank, who is in his eighties, and his wife Lil. Shelley, a single mother, and her young son Harvey. What connects them on the surface is the house Shelley lives in for it is the house that Frank grew up in. It is the house that pulls him back as he explores his own memories. Franks returns time and time again, hoping to connect with Shelley and visit inside the house. Shelley, in her own fears, turns away. Given a different story setup, this behavior has all the elements of stalking.

In some ways, what also connects these four characters is their individual memories of their parents and the defining impact of those memories on their entire lives. Frank and Lil both lost a parent suddenly when they were young. Although just a child, Harvey has his own traumas and imaginations to deal with. Shelley's parent and childhood is one she wishes to leave far far behind her. In their own way, each individual has a pivotal moment in their lives with which they are trying to reconcile.

Is this the story the book is trying to tell? I am not really sure whether that is the intention, but that is what I leave with. This book is a struggle of each individual to come to terms with their past as it was and with the memories of their past as they see it to be. Lil's perspective, in fact, is told through notes, lists, and diary entries and her reflections as she mulls over these remnants of her past.

Oddly, a book that deals with characters coming to terms with past trauma should be moving and emotional. Perhaps, because of the changing perspectives and the nonlinear timelines, the emotional connection is somewhat lost for me. The book leaves me thinking but not moved.

This book is not an easy read - in terms of structure, character, or thought. It needs thinking and reflecting. The idea of the book is very real and very much a part of every person's experience. That being said, as a story, the book is challenging to read because each of the struggles is individual and does not really come together. The idea is unifying; the fiction is not.

About the Author

Jill McCorkle’s first two novels were released simultaneously when she was just out of college, and the New York Times called her “a born novelist.” Since then, she has published five other novels and four collections of short stories, and her work has appeared in Best American Short Stories several times, as well as The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Five of her books have been New York Times Notable books, and her novel, Life After Life, was a New York Times bestseller. She has received the New England Booksellers Award, the John Dos Passos Prize for Excellence in Literature, and the North Carolina Award for Literature. She has written for The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Garden and Gun, The Atlantic, and other publications. She was a Briggs-Copeland Lecturer in Fiction at Harvard, where she also chaired the department of creative writing. She is currently a faculty member of the Bennington College Writing Seminars and is affiliated with the MFA program at North Carolina State University.

About the Book

A mesmerizing novel about the burden of secrets carried across generations.

Lil and Frank married young, launched into courtship when they bonded over how they both—suddenly, tragically— lost a parent when they were children. Over time, their marriage grew and strengthened, with each still wishing for so much more understanding of the parents they’d lost prematurely.

Now, after many years in Boston, they’ve retired to North Carolina. There, Lil, determined to leave a history for their children, sifts through letters and notes and diary entries—perhaps revealing more secrets than Frank wants their children to know. Meanwhile, Frank has become obsessed with what might have been left behind at the house he lived in as a boy on the outskirts of town, where a young single mother, Shelley, is just trying to raise her son with some sense of normalcy. Frank’s repeated visits to Shelley’s house begin to trigger memories of her own family, memories that she’d hoped to keep buried. Because, after all, not all parents are ones you wish to remember.

Hieroglyphics reveals the difficulty of ever really knowing the intentions and dreams and secrets of the people who raised you. In her deeply layered and masterful novel, Jill McCorkle deconstructs and reconstructs what it means to be a father or a mother, and what it means to be a child piecing together the world around us, a child learning to make sense of the hieroglyphics of history and memory.

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