On Sale September 12, 2017
Cotton County, Georgia, 1930: in a house full of secrets, two babies-one light-skinned, the other dark-are born to Elma Jesup, a white sharecropper’s daughter. Accused of her rape, field hand Genus Jackson is lynched and dragged behind a truck down the Twelve-Mile Straight, the road to the nearby town. In the aftermath, the farm’s inhabitants are forced to contend with their complicity in a series of events that left a man dead and a family irrevocably fractured.
Despite the prying eyes and curious whispers of the townspeople, Elma begins to raise her babies as best as she can, under the roof of her mercurial father, Juke, and with the help of Nan, the young black housekeeper who is as close to Elma as a sister. But soon it becomes clear that the ties that bind all of them together are more intricate than any could have ever imagined. As startling revelations mount, a web of lies begins to collapse around the family, destabilizing their precarious world and forcing all to reckon with the painful truth.
Acclaimed author Eleanor Henderson has returned with a novel that combines the intimacy of a family drama with the staggering presence of a great Southern saga. Tackling themes of racialized violence, social division, and financial crisis, The Twelve-Mile Straight is a startlingly timely, emotionally resonant, and magnificent tour de force.
Available from Ecco Books September 12, 2017, from 4th Estate in the UK in January 2018, and from Albin Michel in France.
“Eleanor Henderson goes for broke in her new novel, The Twelve-Mile Straight. This engaging, expansive novel manages to feel historical and, sadly, up to the minute as it probes the sins at the heart of the American experience. Henderson invents a broad cast in her sweeping saga and illustrates their trials with such a sure hand. This is the kind of novel you sink into, live inside. When you’re finished it will live inside you. A bravura performance.”
—Victor LaValle, author of The Changeling
“The setup is simple: Two babies—one of them black and one of them white. But the story of how they came to be is one of the deepest and most nuanced explorations of our shared humanity that I’ve read in a long time. The characters are so vivid that you will feel as though they exist unbound by the pages of the book; the writing is so extraordinary it will make your teeth ache; the story is so compelling that you may gasp out loud—as I did—as the revelations unfold. This is no ordinary novel. It is art of the highest order.”
—Cristina Henríquez, author of The Book of Unknown Americans
“Eleanor Henderson’s lyrical evocation of rural Georgia during the Depression is mesmerizing, disturbing, and wonderfully persuasive. The world is brutal even as the landscape is lush and seductive. The Twelve-Mile Straight is unstinting in showing us the everyday savagery of Jim Crow, of poverty, and of family abuse. A riveting, consequential story full of complex secrets and unexpected turns.”
—Dana Spiotta, author of Innocents and Others
“The Twelve-Mile Straight is anything but—a family drama, a mystery, Southern Gothic, and a searing study of the complexities of race in America. Eleanor Henderson pins on the setting board the intersecting forces of country, community, family and self—each tugging the other, near to the point of tearing. Cotton County is a dark place, tortured by its own secrets, and it’s in Henderson’s expert hand and penetrating eye that those secrets are carried into light.”
—Bill Cheng, author of Southern Cross the Dog
“Beginning with the miraculous birth of two unlikely twins, Eleanor Henderson creates an intricate and fascinating tale of maternity and paternity, of race and blood, of two young women doing what they must do to survive. The Twelve-Mile Straight portrays events along a tiny sliver of Depression-era Georgia, but as the revelations mount this place truly becomes an everywhere. This is brave material, confronted with unblinking honesty and woven with intelligence and grace.”
—Christopher Tilghman, author of The Right-Hand Shore
“Thus does the tragedy of racial violence in the Jim Crow South shape the narrative, but Henderson is after something more, showing the damage wrought by divisions of class as well as race and the way both a family and a community can be sustained by lies….Henderson’s highly recommended title delivers a powerful tale of social complexity told in radiant and precise prose.”
“Henderson follows her acclaimed debut, Ten Thousand Saints (2011), with this totally immersing, provocative historical novel….The world of Twelve-Mile Straight—the rural back road of this engrossing novel’s title, with its illegal distillery, chain gangs, and lynchings—will continue to haunt readers long after they finish the final page.”