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The Twelve-Mile Straight

A Novel

by Eleanor Henderson

The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson X
The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2017, 560 pages
    Sep 2018, 560 pages

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PTK, Librarian, central Illinois

Twelve-Mile Straight: A Rare Novel
It is a rare novel that is written so well, that brings its characters to life while exploring their depths, and that tells a such a compelling story. Elma, Nan, Juke, and even the twins come alive under Henderson's deft pen. I can't remember the last time I stayed up all night reading a novel, but Twelve-Mile Straight grabbed me from the start and kept me rapt until the end. Eleanor Henderson has created what might be considered in the future to be a literary classic.
Janine S. (Wyoming, MI)

A book to savor, a story to remember
I was blown away reading this book. The prose and style were so captivating that I felt at times I was actually there in the moment as the events of the story unfold. This book is not an easy read though. The story of the rural South in the 30s with its racial attitudes, contempt for and mistreatment of blacks, and attitudes about women are hard to read at times, but the author speaks with such honesty through each of her characters you feel compelled to read on to understand motivation and what really is the truth surrounding the birth of the "Gemini Twins." While a complicated story, it is equally fascinating, rich in its many characters with their own stories to tell. Starting tragically the book rolls forward told from the perceptions of each character dealing with the vagaries of his or her life, each seeking to understand what it all means. The female characters, especially Nan and Elma, are particularly rich in their strengthens, convictions and determinations to forge a better life, which they do. The male characters seem to complicate and disrupt the lives of the women, especially George Wilson and Juke Jessup, representative of the Southern landed gentry and rural farmer respectively, patriarchs who carry on a bitter personal relationship that has an ironic and maybe fitting ending for one, at least. But this is also a story of changing times and changing attitudes. As George and Juke are representative of the racial attitudes of the South in those times, Oliver, the crippled physician, whose willingness to accept the "twins" and Nan into his home when others in the white community are deeply antithetical to having blacks in their town represents what has to change. He also serves as a foil to the other males not only because of being crippled by polio, his acceptance of and respect for the female characters is not typical of the rough-edged Southern male of that time. Finally it is the paving of Twelve Mile Straight and the demolishing of the gourd tree, where the story opens, that brings it to its rightful conclusion: life moves on, things change and barriers must come down. A very fine and worthwhile read.
Power Reviewer
Lee M. (Creve Coeur, MO)

Such Shame
I don't know where to start, I loved this book SO MUCH! How Ms. Henderson got into the mind of so many people and wrote this astounds me! She made me feel I was just beside her in this tale of poverty, prejudice, hate and just plain evil. Mixed ancestry incest rounds out this story. Not for the faint hearted, but NOT to be missed!
Dottie B. (Louisville, KY)

The Twelve-Mile Straight
In The Twelve-Mile Straight Eleanor Henderson captures the zeitgeist of depression era rural Georgia. Amidst a myriad of characters over-determined by their time and place are the protagonists Elma and Nan, both striving against great odds to take charge of their lives. The novel is their story. Henderson touches on medical issues significant at the time--polio, sickle cell disease, and blood typing. Her major theme, however, is the intersection and interdependence of the black and white characters, and ultimately the arbitrariness of racial distinctions. The novel, not an easy read, is nevertheless well worth the reader's effort.

Excellent Fictional Account of Dark Time in Our History
Warning: Many readers may find this book too dark, sad and brutal - unfortunately it is probably a very accurate of life at the time (1930's) and place (Georgia). As difficult as it was to read I was also compelled to finish the book to learn the fate of the "Gemini Twins". The author's third person narrative may be frustrating for some readers, but I enjoyed learning the main characters' thoughts and motivations. Although the chapters bounce back and forth through time, I felt the author did an excellent job of helping the reader transition from one time to another.
Susan K. (Dartmouth, MA)

A long, crazy ride.
Yes, it was, and it started out as a confusing one as well. So many characters, but I sorted them out eventually. I really liked the writing: almost every chapter or change of scene was so richly described the image of the place would just come into view in my mind's eye. (My favorite kind of writing)
The storyline, with the main characters being both black and white was really in depth, going back and forth from one character's viewpoint to another's. Lots of period and cultural detail. Quite an interesting story, but I think it could be shortened a bit without losing anything major. Not a fun read, though, it'll be great for book club discussion.
Jane B. (Chicago, IL)

The claim of a name
This is a history of the people living on the 12 mile straight. Writing influenced more by Carson McCullers or Pat Conroy than William Faulkner, There is a touch of Dickens in the naming of some of the characters. One of the characters, Genus, defines his story. Genus means: a category ranking above species and below family which seemed to nicely sum up his place and influence. Nan is a palidrome which makes her the same going forward or backward. Elma means "she knows". Juke means to move in a zigzag fashion. Henderson tells a good story albeit the pacing seems a bit slow.
Yvonne K. (Magnolia, TX)

Unfolding story of rich, poor, black and white with dark family secrets that come out with an explosive vengeance.

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