A town and culture are haunted by acts of violence in American Ghost by Janis Owens (My Brother Michael, The Cracker Kitchen). Set in Hendrix--a fictional, contemporary, hardscrabble Florida Panhandle town--this perceptive, well-paced novel was inspired by true events and centers upon a notorious lynching from 1938, the result of a white shop owner who was brutally shot and killed in a robbery by a black man. Secrets and long-buried acts of racism are unearthed when Sam Lense, a Jewish, Miami graduate student in anthropology, comes to town to study and write an academic paper about the ethnic inhabitants of the region, a group of close-knit townsfolk who are distrustful of outsiders.
While doing his research, Sam falls in love with Jolie Hoyt, the humble, sheltered daughter of a protective, old-school preacher. The intensity of the young couple's three-month affair is the talk of the town. Some believe Jolie is rapt by Sam because he is a "rich Jew" while others feel that Sam is using Jolie and her connections to the "useless old lynching" for his own gain. Tensions mount and threaten the small community until Sam's work is dramatically cut short and the bond between the lovers is ultimately severed.
The second half of the book fast-forwards twelve years. Jolie and Sam, transformed for better and worse, are reunited when a black businessman embarks upon Hendrix to reconcile his father's memory. Complex strands weave together this captivating narrative rife with historical context and characterizations that reflect the foibles of human nature.
Scribner, $25.00, Hardcover, 97814516774637, 288 pp
Publication Date: October 9, 2012
Please note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (10/19/12), click HERE.