HIEROGLYPHICS – Jill McCorkle

Photographed on a quilt made by my grandmother.

Jill McCorkle’s Hieroglyphics (2020 Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill) is a patchwork quilt made with scraps of guilt, trauma, secrets, family, survival, and mortality.  At its heart, it is a novel of the things we cling to to remember and be remembered.

Lil and Frank have retired to North Carolina from the brisk winters of Boston.  Frank had spent half his childhood in the state, and his childhood home has been calling to him.  He hopes the current residents, a young woman and her son who are renting the home, will let him come inside.  Despite his requests, he hasn’t had much luck and his time is running out.

Lil worries about him.  She’s concerned about his obsession with the house, but she’s more concerned about his health and forgetfulness.  In an effort to help him and herself remember, she leaves written reminders throughout their home and spends her days sifting through old diary entries and bits and pieces she’s written over the years – her immortality finding life in the words she leaves behind.  All but one word.  Their word.

Shelley doesn’t know what to make of the old man when he asks if he can come inside and see the house.  As a court stenographer, she’s seen the horrendous things even the most harmless looking folks have done.  More importantly, her own childhood experiences of trauma and abuse have her question intentions. She doesn’t let him in.

Harvey is an interesting kid.  He’s obsessed with murders and murderers, Lizzie Borden in particular, and he thinks there is a ghost in the house.  He was born with a facial deformity, and he hides his scar behind fake mustaches.  Shelley does her best, but she’s a single mom struggling to overcome the crap hand she was dealt, and she’s overwhelmed.

This is McCorkle at her best, and Hieroglyphics will settle around your shoulders like a faded and worn quilt passed down from generation to generation.

Read this book.

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