Published by Macmillan on 8/20/2013
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Duke and Jerene Johnston are pillars of Charlotte, North Carolina’s high society, holding up the façade of their family’s rich Confederate heritage while attempting to bury secrets both past and present. Rather than helping the Johnston’s hold their spot on the social ladder, Duke and Jerene’s four children seem bound to knock the family down as their lives grow increasingly scandalous. Even Jerene’s siblings have a difficult time conforming to the high Southern standards her family was raised to follow. Though she understands that society is changing around her, Jerene is determined to hold on to her family’s legacy – at any cost.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve only lived below the Mason-Dixon for five years, so I’m still adjusting to all the intricacies of Southern culture (like when I had to give my students a flier for cotillion, though I had no clue what it was?), but there is no denying the truth behind the characters in Lookaway, Lookaway. While they are no doubt extreme and satirized, it’s hard not to find a familiar face in the Johnston clan, regardless of your background. Among them a drunk, slurring brother who penned a series of bestselling Civil War novels, leaving him piles of cash. A daughter who gives up her preppy outfits and perfect GPA to join the wildest sorority in college, only to find herself being taken advantage of, while her sister fights to swim against everything the Johnston family stands for. But Lookaway, Lookaway‘s most unforgettable character is the family matriarch, Jerene Jarvis Johnston. The polarity between Jerene’s strict Southern manners and brutally uncompromising tactics when protecting those around her is both shocking and endlessly entertaining.
“It’s as if, thought Annie, some wicked masculine committee in charge of Life had known the women would worry their pretty little heads over all this rigmarole and thereby leave the running of the big important world to the men, who would look upon all the flounces and frills, tears and hysteria, with a knowing wink, a nudge in the side, Told you that’d keep ’em occupied.”
Each member of the family is given a point of view chapter, which allows the plotlines to be told from different perspectives – a perfect device when dealing with family secrets. Over the course of several years we are welcomed into the Johnston family, through tales both humorous and heartbreaking, and watch as it slowly falls apart. After nearly fifteen years, Wilton Barnhardt has returned with an insightful, irresistibly fun novel that is already on my favorites list.