The Twelve Mile Straight is as Southern as fried chicken.
Two babies are born at Cross Roads Farm – one mulatto, one white.
People come from miles around to view the babies – a miracle of nature. Born to a white woman, Elma, the children are said to have two fathers – one white; her fiancée, Freddie Wilson, – one black, believed to have been forced on her by Genus Jackson.
Genus Jackson is lynched without trial at the beginning of the book. Will those responsible get away with it?
Juke Jessup is hiding a still. His intentions towards Nan, the house girl, are less than fatherly. His own daughter Elma, is “fixin” to be wed to Freddie Wilson, the local cotton mill owner’s son. But when the twins are born, all hell breaks loose.
Like Light in August and To Kill a Mockingbird, this is a story of injustice for all. Racial segregation was still prevalent in 1930s Georgia, where African-American people were barely removed from slavery.
To say that women in this story get a raw deal is an understatement. Even the man pulling the strings in town, George Wilson, is not spared from the sufferings he hands down the pecking order.
Each character has a tale to tell in this riveting book. And they all have secrets. Dreams too – sometimes their dreams are all they have.
Nan has grown up on Crossroads Farm after the death of her mother, the housekeeper Ketty. She dreams of the return of her father, Sterling, but never loses sight of stark reality even while she fantasizes about the future:
She had long had a picture in her mind of his homecoming: he would come up the driveway in an automobile, a Pontiac or Chevrolet, with a licence plate that said MARYLAND. The dogs would go out to greet him first and she’d step out onto the porch. He’d be wearing a Sunday suit and a wide-brimmed hat, which he’d tip up to get a better look at her, and then he’d take off the hat and hold it over his heart, and his eyes would see and see her. And then she would know. She would recognize him. She would recognize her own face in his.
But she knew nothing happened the way you imagined it. That was how she knew it was real.
It’s not a question of whether the truth will out, it’s when – it slowly but surely leaks through the holes in the characters’ stories, gathering together to a flow as large as the local creek.
Eleanor Henderson writes with feeling, strong historical influence and an eye for a poetic phrase. Despite most reviewers’ perception of this as a tragic story, I was pleased with its conclusion.
I got lost on The Twelve Mile Straight. You will too.
Twelve Mile Straight
by Eleanor Henderson
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand