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The Twelve-Mile Straight


An audacious American epic set in rural Georgia during the years of the...
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Discuss The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson:
Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

Created: 07/15/18

Replies: 33

Posted Jul. 15, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
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deby

Join Date: 10/21/10

Posts: 19

Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight?

Please, please, please read this book. It is so worth your time...........


Posted Jul. 15, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
Maggie

Join Date: 01/01/16

Posts: 112

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RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

It is a well written, amazing book. Lots of different characters and some surprises. Did well explaining the relationships between the different classes. I do recommend this novel. Worth your time to read it. I do agree it is in American epic.


Posted Jul. 15, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
cynthiaa

Join Date: 04/14/11

Posts: 78

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RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

I loved it! It is a good story with lots of interesting characters and issues.


Posted Jul. 15, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
rebajane

Join Date: 04/21/11

Posts: 211

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RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

I loved this book and have already recommended it. It’s difficult to read, at times but well worth the discomfort


Posted Jul. 15, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
shannonl

Join Date: 12/04/17

Posts: 7

RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

Praised as “a best book of 2017” and “a must read” in leading national newspapers I expected to like The Twelve-Mile Straight, Eleanore Henderson's latest novel. But I didn't. Was it a good book? Yes. Was it more than that? No.

The story set in Cotton County, Georgia in 1930, is about two babies, one light-skinned and the other dark, born of fourteen-years-old, white-skinned Elma Jessup and the lynching of the black man accused of raping her. The story that follows is the sad, complicated aftermath. What happens to the family, the suspicions of the townspeople and the web of lies that entangles and tears apart everyone involved.

The novel has the potential to be a great Southern saga. In some ways it succeeded. The depictions of American prejudice, at the heart of the story, are chilling and leave little to the imagination of the reader. The brutality of the lynching and the body being dragged down the “Twelve-Mile Straight” are as visual and sensual as anything I have read in recent history.

Henderson captures her characters in a single stroke: he “wore a black suit and a black Homburg hat and carried a black satchel, listing to the left with its weight, his right ear listening” or,
she prayed “that Wilson and Winna might cry on a riverbank and no one would pay them any mind. She prayed that they would be saved, but from prejudice, from prying....she prayed that they might lead a life of glorious obscurity, of loneliness even, that they might run the acres of the farm, as she had, unwatched by anyone but God in the sky.”

The problem for me was that Henderson tries too hard to write an American epic. She jumps around in time and between characters making me work too hard to follow her story. Her main characters remain underdeveloped while her important ideas are diluted with too many subplots and inessential characters and their backstories.

As the story inched along looking for an ending, it became predictable. I kept waiting for something to happen and, eventually, just wished it would end.

While I agree when other reviewers acknowledge Henderson's powerful voice and imagery I found the storytelling confusing and lacking. I loved her first novel Ten Thousand Saints and I look forward to her next one but I was disappointed in The Twelve-Mile Straight.


Posted Jul. 15, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
elyseg

Join Date: 11/13/17

Posts: 12

RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

I really enjoyed it. As I was reading I kept finding myself reading 'just one more section' time and again before finally putting it down. The only negative was that the chapters went back and forth both in time and character's story, which was often confusing.


Posted Jul. 15, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
Marcia S

Join Date: 02/08/16

Posts: 169

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RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

I found the story engaging but it was a bit drawn out. I felt that I knew the characters and the community well. It held my interest. It might have been a better read if it hadn't bounced around in time and characters quite as much. The story certainly wasn't upbeat, but I think there are lessons to be learned from the book.


Posted Jul. 16, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
Peggy H

Join Date: 06/13/11

Posts: 235

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RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

Although I think the book portrayed the time and place well, there were times that I just felt confused. Many authors are now using separate voices in chapters to tell the entire story. That might have been helpful in this case. I did find the characters well presented and the writing, at times, was stunning. At other times I found the author tried too hard to present an American classic.


Posted Jul. 16, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
laurap

Join Date: 06/19/12

Posts: 215

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RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

Eleanor Henderson has created a wonderful story of family, racial, class, and economic relationships. The book is a classic tragedy that is almost impossible to put down. The characters make the book. Elma, her father "Juke" Jesup, the Wilson family (owner of the Jesup's farm and the town mill -- and a still which completes with Juke's gin operation), and Nancy, a local black midwife and daughter of the Jesup's long-time housekeeper Ketty all have wildly-spinning moral compasses that impact their conclusions as they decide who they love, who deserves revenge and for what, and how they will protect themselves and their families. It's hard to be more specific without giving away crucial plot points.

This book reminds me in some ways (all good ones) of Robert Goolrick's Heading Out to Wonderful, Hillary Jordan's Mudbound, and Wiley Cash's A Land More Kind than Home. I haven't read a better book in a long time.


Posted Jul. 16, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
jillf

Join Date: 07/30/13

Posts: 22

RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

it was a good book but it could have been a great one. The story dragged on too long in my opinion. The characters were engaging and the story had good bones. When you realize that things like that happened in this country, not really that long ago, you can't help but be drawn in. In the end, I felt the book got muddled with too many details and sputtered to the finish line.


Posted Jul. 16, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
katherinep

Join Date: 07/16/14

Posts: 106

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RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

I'm in agreement with Shannoni, jillf and PeggyH--I managed to get about halfway through before giving up. It was just too hard to keep the time and the characters straight. Feeling confused and tired of trying to sort it out, especially since the story was so dark and sad, I gave up. I agree, in an effort to make this a classic, an epic, Henderson threw in every possible strand of 1930's Southern bigotry that history provides. It became overwhelming and, I might add, rather damning of the South as though the rest of the country was above racial and social bigotry at the time. May not have been lynchings but there were other ways it was expressed. Hoping the answers to these reading questions will clarify the tale for me and perhaps I'll go back and try to finish.


Posted Jul. 17, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
barbm

Join Date: 02/04/16

Posts: 77

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RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

Southern bigotry. Dark brutal relationships. Fabulous imagery. It's a good tale, but a bit worn.


Posted Jul. 17, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
annl

Join Date: 04/03/17

Posts: 25

RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

Very well done. Felt like the author was trying to write a book, not satisfy a checklist, which is so common now. Characters were identifiable as people.


Posted Jul. 19, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
phyllisrelyea

Join Date: 04/13/12

Posts: 9

RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

I particularly liked all the issues that were brought into the story, such as sickle cell, depression, prohibition, polio, and sharecropper's life
in the 1930's. The author's use of vernacular style of writing made the story seem real even though the timeline was confusing and so many secrets!


Posted Jul. 19, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
laurag

Join Date: 04/16/12

Posts: 14

RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

I really liked this book. The author did an amazing job weaving this story through character development. When I still had 200 pages to read I told my husband that I was regretting that it was going to end.


Posted Jul. 19, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
karenrn

Join Date: 08/29/13

Posts: 90

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RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

I loved it. I could not put it down. I had no trouble with keeping the time changes and character viewpoint changes straight. I think it is obvious from the context of what you are reading. My home town book club would probably find this confusing. I think some people must have more trouble figuring out things from the context. It is a dark difficult read but it is part of our history. It is important to learn from and understand history so that discrimination in all forms is eliminated.


Posted Jul. 19, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
janen

Join Date: 06/01/11

Posts: 48

RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

Overall it was a good story but one that has been told before and in many different ways. I enjoyed it hoever based on the initial promos, I expected more.


Posted Jul. 19, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
beckyh

Join Date: 05/08/11

Posts: 78

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RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

I didn't like it at all. I thought it was too long, too disjointed. I REALLY disliked the way it kept shifting the time line.I felt like I had to WORK at the book. It wasn't worth all the effort required.


Posted Jul. 19, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
melanieb

Join Date: 08/30/14

Posts: 125

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RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

I liked the story, although I did find the book anger-provoking in many instances. I was impressed with the author’s ability to tackle “taboo”subjects in a realistic and sensitive way.


Posted Jul. 19, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
JLPen77

Join Date: 02/05/16

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RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

I too read and loved her first book, Ten Thousand Saints— which also weaves together many different viewpoints of characters who are flawed but sympathetic, meaning that we can appreciate why they act as they do, even when we don’t like their decisions, and ultimately this becomes a powerful statement about building family and community, the inherent goodness and capacity for generous love that we can draw upon in the face of tragedy.
I loved this novel too, and I think it is a great one— in an opposite way. Instead of using these multiple, complex characters to shine a light on how people build life-sustaing relationships, she uses her characters to show how people have destroyed them, the many ways they foster a racial and gender-based hierarchy, through greed, cowardice, ignorance and the abuse of power. It is the collective self-serving actions of so many bigoted characters , and the scale of the misery they inflict on others, that makes this a saga.

That’s important, I think, because a good just society is never up to the actions of a few good individuals, it’s always a collective effort. And vice versa: this dysfunctional society—a part of our history some folks would like to return to— is only possible when most people are willing to accept it. I think that is what Henderson is driving at.

So no, this isn’t damning of the South; it is pointing to historical reality of one time and place— her father’s, as she wrote in the afterword— in order to make a point about any society, especially ours as a nation today. Very much worth reading!


Posted Jul. 20, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
teacher reader

Join Date: 02/14/18

Posts: 8

RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

This book is beautifully written, and it is always a joy to read intelligent, complex writing. However I agree with those who thought it was too long. It reminded me somewhat of Winds of War by Herman Wouk in that the author managed to work in polio, lynching, river baptisms, prohibition, chain gangs, sharecropping, and every other thread of history. I read to be entertained and uplifted, not to be exposed without respite to misery, suffering, and tragedy.

Afterthought: I grew up Georgia in the 50's and 60's and don't doubt the veracity of the stories told; but I do think it was unfairly damning of the South.


Posted Jul. 21, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
barbarae

Join Date: 04/22/11

Posts: 9

RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

I had trouble getting through the book. The racism, brutality and coarseness of many of the characters was difficult to read about. I think it is a good book, but a bit too long.


Posted Jul. 21, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
josephinej

Join Date: 05/11/15

Posts: 31

RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

Very well done, but very hard to read. I had to keep putting it down and take deep breaths! Still, it's a story well-worth telling. I agree that it was over-long.


Posted Jul. 21, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
dorothyh

Join Date: 01/23/15

Posts: 107

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RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

Well done, as others have mentioned the author tackles many sensitive issues some of which were hard to read. I would have like it better if it was no so long. I found it to be wordy , but worth the read. good for a book club


Posted Jul. 23, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
N*Starr

Join Date: 03/13/14

Posts: 40

RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

I couldn’t agree more with your analysis. I really wanted to love this book but in the end, I liked it well enough. I kept waiting for it to say something deeper than it did or do something different. It covered well worn territory, hard territory but I left feeling uninspired by the book.
Maybe it was all the hype?


Posted Jul. 23, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
renem

Join Date: 12/01/16

Posts: 172

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RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

Like teacher reader, I also grew up in the South (Valdosta, GA as mentioned in the novel) but in the 60s-70s instead. I especially love to read a good southern-based novel to see how accurate the writer comes to what I lived and learned about in school. Often times I feel the emphasis is always on all the negative issues that plagued the South, leaving readers unfamiliar with the rest of what the South is all about. I didn't have any problems keeping up with the characters or story line and found it to be an easy read.


Posted Jul. 29, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
cindyj

Join Date: 06/26/18

Posts: 8

RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

I liked the book although I thought it was predictable at certain times. I do think it dealt with important issues.


Posted Aug. 01, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
skagitgrits

Join Date: 02/24/17

Posts: 6

RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

I found this to be a profound and complex story layered with the multifaceted characters and their lives. Her research was impeccable and the vernacular was spot on. The story and its ending remained with me for several days after closing the cover. Ultimately, everyone experienced the appropriate retribution. Having grown up in southeast Georgia I found the characters believable and the story with all of its complexities totally believable. It's a time and history that we as white southerners need to known and accept with all of its good, bad and ugly. Magnificent. I can't wait to read Ms Henderson's next book.


Posted Aug. 02, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
swchis39

Join Date: 09/26/12

Posts: 54

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RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

The book was well written and kept my interest. Well done!


Posted Aug. 02, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
swchis39

Join Date: 09/26/12

Posts: 54

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RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

Enjoyed the book and felt the author did a great job with the character development.


Posted Aug. 04, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
MarieA

Join Date: 10/12/11

Posts: 193

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RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

Enjoyed the book and I can't wait to hear what members of my book group have to say about it later this month. It should be an interesting and thought-provoking discussion. So looking forward to it.


Posted Aug. 04, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
juliaa

Join Date: 12/03/11

Posts: 185

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RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

I'm just going to repeat here what I said in my review on GoodReads. It took me a long time to really get into it. I don't really know how to describe my reaction. So much of the story line was distressing, and some of the characters were just hard to care about. The Depression wasn't, of course, a good time anywhere, but in the South of this novel it seemed particularly harsh. I also had a harder time than usual in keeping up with the author's use of flashbacks and switches in the narrative points of view. It's also a book that provokes by turns outrage, pity, sadness, even grief. Not a book I can see myself rereading or recommending to my other book club.


Posted Aug. 04, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
N*Starr

Join Date: 03/13/14

Posts: 40

RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

It seemed to cover too much worn area without much new to say. What did folks think of this book in comparison to othe souther gothic novels that look at the shame of racism, rape and coercion?


Posted Aug. 28, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
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taking.mytime

Join Date: 03/29/16

Posts: 97

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RE: Overall, what did you think of The Twelve-Mile Straight? (no spoilers in this thread please)

Parts of this book were hard to read. It is also hard to understand the reasoning behind some of the actions taking place in this book. However, at that time, racism and social economics were not seen as they are today. The author did a great job of showing the culture of that time, as harsh and uninviting as it was.

The authors method of moving back and forth in time and using various narrators was confusing on occasion, but helped the story to read as it did.


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