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Revisiting the Bad Old Days in RETURN TO TAYLOR’S CROSSING

By Janie Dempsey Watts

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Spanning decades in the lives of two star-crossed lovers who are forced to leave their home in Georgia and go their separate ways, RETURN TO TAYLOR’S CROSSING offers plenty of Southern charm but does little to illuminate the racial violence it takes as its central conflict.

When their blossoming romance is cut short by a night of cataclysmic racial violence, two black laborers flee from their sleepy Southern town and spend a lifetime trying to bury the past–only to learn (as the saying goes) the past is not dead, nor even past.

RETURN TO TAYLOR’S CROSSING spans decades from the 1950s to the present, and weaves together the perspectives of numerous characters from and around the fictional town of Taylor’s Crossing in Georgia: the young lovers Abednego Harris and Lola James; the white family that employs them; Abednego’s younger sister and her horse-crazy white friend. At first, Janie Dempsey Watts walks us leisurely through the pastoral beauty of Taylor’s Crossing–Abednego courts Lola against an idyllic backdrop of woods and streams—but hints at the undercurrents of racial violence brewing on the early side of the Civil Rights Era. Once Abednego and Lola are compelled to leave their homes, the narrative moves along at a brisk pace, offering glimpses into their lives as they struggle to come to terms with the violence and grief inflicted upon them—eventually finding their way back to Taylor’s Crossing.

After surviving a brutal assault, Lola James turns to the canvas and paints the world as she would rather see it, though she is troubled by some critical reviews that dismiss her work as simple fantasy. The criticism is a little on the nose: we know there is nothing imaginary about the violent upheavals of the last century (or, indeed, the present), but the world Watts has painted is still troublingly black-and-white (if you’ll pardon the expression). The black residents of Taylor’s Crossing are unwaveringly strong, spirited, and noble; its white residents are unwaveringly friendly, generous, and loyal–unless they are racists, in which case they are also bad husbands, creepy brothers, or incompetent workers. At best, this is naïve: surely we know by now that racism manifests its harm by ways and means beyond overt uses of the n-word, and even well-meaning white folks aren’t immune from its insidiousness. But while the book does little to illuminate the past or present by taking on this weighty subject, at its heart it’s a simple story about a simple town and two characters you’ll root for.

~Sara Davis for IndieReader

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