Genus Jackson was killed in Cotton County, Georgia, on a summer midnight in 1930, when the newborn twins were fast asleep.
They lay head to toe in a cradle meant for one, Winnafred on one side and Wilson on the other.
Only if you looked closely – and people did – could you see that the girl was pink as a piglet, and the boy was brown.
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 down the Twelve-Mile Straight, the road to the nearby town.
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 impulsive father, Juke, and with the help of Nan, the young black housekeeper who is as close to Elma as a sister. It soon becomes clear that the ties that bind all of them together are more intricate than any could have imagined. A web of lies begins to collapse around the family, destabilizing their precarious world and forcing all to reckon with the truth.
About the author
Eleanor Henderson’s debut novel Ten Thousand Saints was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2011 by the New York Times and was a finalist for the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction from the Los Angeles Times. An associate professor at Ithaca College, she lives in Ithaca, New York, with her husband and two sons.
‘Eleanor Henderson is a novelist who is clearly suited to the expansive mode, and her labyrinthine plot never wants for twists and turns. Nuanced and compassionate, hers is a sweeping tale of uncompromising brutality, which is finally offset by a faint, but hugely welcome, glimmer of light’ Daily Mail
‘A rich, complex narrative that moves skilfully back and forth in time, unfolding the histories and secrets of those involved. The wounds of America’s racial past have provided the subject for some excellent novels in recent years and Henderson’s book is an impressive addition to their number’ The Times
‘An ambitious and sprawling Southern Gothic tale’ Emerald Street
‘Riveting … plunges you into the Jim Crow South with stunning fierceness … Henderson immerses you in characters worthy of Flannery O’Connor … A masterful piece of storytelling’ Seattle Times
‘Devastating … Filled with twists and turns, this book gives an intimate and heartbreaking look at America’s ugly history of racial violence’ Shondaland
‘Affecting, profound … this story resonates deeply in our current political climate’ Nylon
‘Provocative and important … These stories linger under the skin … Henderson puts the stories of African-Americans back into the narrative … The Twelve-Mile Straight, although shouldering complicated themes in history, is a timeless novel’ Ithaca Times
‘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
‘An intricate and fascinating tale of maternity and paternity, of race and blood, of two young women doing what they must do to survive … confronted with unblinking honesty and woven with intelligence and grace’ Christopher Tilghman