When I first heard of No One is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts, I knew I wanted to read this debut novel and I was not disappointed by the honest and resonant tale.
Publisher’s Summary: JJ Ferguson has returned home to Pinewood, North Carolina, to build his dream house and to pursue his high school sweetheart, Ava. But as he reenters his former world, where factories are in decline and the legacy of Jim Crow is still felt, he’s startled to find that the people he once knew and loved have changed just as much as he has. Ava is now married and desperate for a baby, though she can’t seem to carry one to term. Her husband, Henry, has grown distant, frustrated by the demise of the furniture industry, which has outsourced to China and stripped the area of jobs. Ava’s mother, Sylvia, caters to and meddles with the lives of those around her, trying to fill the void left by her absent son. And Don, Sylvia’s unworthy but charming husband, just won’t stop hanging around.
JJ’s return—and his plans to build a huge mansion overlooking Pinewood and woo Ava—not only unsettles their family, but stirs up the entire town. The ostentatious wealth that JJ has attained forces everyone to consider the cards they’ve been dealt, what more they want and deserve, and how they might go about getting it. Can they reorient their lives to align with their wishes rather than their current realities? Or are they all already resigned to the rhythms of the particular lives they lead?
No One is Coming to Save Us is a revelatory debut from an insightful voice: with echoes of The Great Gatsby it is an arresting and powerful novel about an extended African American family and their colliding visions of the American Dream. In evocative prose, Stephanie Powell Watts has crafted a full and stunning portrait that combines a universally resonant story with an intimate glimpse into the hearts of one family.
But a word of caution: do not read No One is Coming to Save Us and expect it to be a re-telling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. As Watts stated in an NPR interview, “The kernel, the seed of the book is very much in the spirit of Gatsby: the idea that someone returns to a place that is home for him, or he’s hoping is home for him, and he comes back and he is hoping to live out a fantasy life that he’s dreamed about for some time. And so that kernel to me is what my book is about, or is at least a starting place for my book. But it goes in different directions from there.”
However, No One is Coming to Save Us stands on its own as a tale of coming home and deciding which dreams are worthy of continued pursuit. Watts has created relatable characters who are scarred from poverty and loss.
Ron Charles said it best in his Washington Post review: “Little happens in this novel in any traditional sense, but it seems constantly in motion because Watts is so captivating a writer. She’s unusually deft with dialogue: the self-pitying asides, intentional misunderstandings and veering tones of real conversation. And she’s no less effective when considering these characters alone, flowing seamlessly from one to another, plumbing their various levels of despair.”
Even so, the reader is not left in despair after reading No One is Coming to Save Us. Watts reflections on food, place, and people provide a cushion from the “jagged edges” of truth.
You can also check out the electronic version.
Happy reading, Susan C.
You might also enjoy:
The Turner House by Angela Flournoy – The Turners have lived on Yarrow Street for over fifty years. Their house has seen thirteen children grown and gone and some returned; it has seen the arrival of grandchildren, the fall of Detroit’s East Side, and the loss of a father. The house still stands despite abandoned lots, an embattled city, and the inevitable shift outward to the suburbs. But now, as ailing matriarch Viola finds herself forced to leave her home and move in with her eldest son, the family discovers that the house is worth just a tenth of its mortgage. The Turner children are called home to decide its fate and to reckon with how each of their pasts haunts and shapes their family’s future.
Bitter in the Mouth by Monique Truong – When a personal tragedy compels a young woman to return to Boiling Springs, North Carolina, she gets to know a mother she never knew and uncovers a startling story of a life, a family.