Think of this as a bit of Southern Gothic lit and a bit of Steel Magnolias if somehow a Stiv Bators analog was in the mix. Rooted takes place in the fictional town of Moonsock, Tenn. sometime in the late ‘70s. The sudden appearance of heretofore unknown grandson, junkie, and New York punker Slade sets off a chain of events, leading to upheaval of the carefully ordered façade that family Patriarch Grover McQuiston has built over time as one of the town’s most feared and respected citizens.
While Grover is the boss of the family, it is his wife Eleanor who is the soul of the McQuistons. Even with her family falling apart around her due to the erosions of time—such as death, tragedy, and estrangement—it is her unfailing belief in patient redemption which marks the solid foundation that centers the family, even after her death. Eleanor is willing to take anyone in need, from her ultra anxious and closed-off granddaughter Sarah Jane who was abandoned years before, to her instant acceptance of Slade who turns up at the family property by crashing a car into Grover’s prize cow Lucy at the end of a drug-fueled mad dash from New York City to claim an inheritance.
The novel shifts primarily between the viewpoints of Grover, Sarah Jane, and Slade. Each of these characters presents a different façade to the world. Grover is marked by a hard, demanding anti-sentimentality developed from years of trying to prove his worth as a respectable man. Slade is brash, crude, outspoken, and given to coping through addiction. Sarah Jane is painfully introspective and willfully sheltered to the point of near asceticism. Regardless of the surface differences, all three characters—and indeed almost all the extended members of the McQuiston family—are marked by two things: familial abandonment and long-term issues linked to secret traumas.
Allen steers the novel well in examining not just the corrosive aspects that mark the characters, but also redemption and hope. Her well-drawn depiction of the Mississippi River countryside of Moonsock conveys a sense of calmness that fortifies the characters through the peace they can experience in this natural Southern sanctuary. As best exemplified in Eleanor, there is also the strong thread permeating the novel of the power that familial connection has, even when frayed to near breaking points. While some of the family issues brought up in the novel seem like they probably can never be completely healed, it is worth the effort for the characters to push forward with forgiveness—if for no other reason than they recognize they are being dragged under by the weight of psychic burdens.
All in all, this novel is a well-structured read that rings true in its examination of the difficultly, tragedy, and sometimes tragi-comedy inherent in sorting out the complications of family. –Adrian Salas (Lowbrow Literary Press, 5050 Oakdale Rd., Westmoreland, TN, 37186, idabelallen.net)