Sunday, January 06, 2019

A dark American heritage: Kent Wascom's The New Inheritors, part of his Gulf Coast quartet

The third in a projected quartet, following Secessia (2015), Wascom’s latest literary saga is his strongest yet. Spanning the years 1890 to 1961, it focuses on two lovers and offers a skillful intermingling of character and place.

After surviving a bizarre, peripatetic Florida childhood, young Isaac is adopted by a caring Mississippi couple. Later, as a reclusive artist, he grows enraptured by Kemper Woolsack, a shipping heiress. However, the coming world war and her brothers’ mutual animosity (Angel is secretly gay; Red is a vicious criminal) disrupt their peaceful lives.

Whether describing the Gulf Coast’s lush vegetation or acts of sudden brutality, Wascom’s writing burns with a raw, elemental power. The story encompasses the era’s white privilege and anti-immigrant stances, letting readers make the contemporary connections, while pondering what it means to be American.

In an inspired move, The Blood of Heaven (2013), the first in Wascom’s series and a Woolsack ancestor's wild, dark narrative, has become his descendants’ origin myth. It all leads to a potent question: Can a family, or country, ever escape the violence in its blood?

The New Inheritors was published in 2018 by Grove; I reviewed it for Booklist last year.  I reviewed The Blood of Heaven back in 2013 (see the link for some additional comments, too).  As a sidenote: I'm not fond of this cover, which seems very generic.

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