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Back to Wando Passoby David Payne
Synopses & Reviews
David Payne has been hailed as "the most gifted American novelist of his generation," (Boston Globe) and has been likened to "Pat Conroy or perhaps a Southern John Irving," (Winston-Salem Journal).
Now, in his new novel, Payne introduces us to Ransom Hill, lead singer of a legendary-but-now-defunct indie rock group who has come to South Carolina to turn over a new leaf. A bighearted artist and a bit of a wild man, Ran knows that his wife Claire's patience with him hangs by a frayed thread. After a five-month separation, he's come south from New York City to rejoin her and their two young children at Wando Passo, Claire's inherited family estate, determined to save his marriage, his family, and himself.
Back at Wando Passo, though, things don't proceed according to plan. Claire has taken a job teaching at the local music conservatory, where the dean of the faculty, Marcel Jones, is one of Claire's oldest friends. It's unclear — to Ran, at least — whether Claire and Marcel's relationship remains platonic or has evolved, in his absence, in a disturbing new direction. Matters are complicated further when Ran discovers a mysterious black pot of apparent slave manufacture buried on the grounds of Wando Passo. The unearthing of this relic transports Ransom — and the reader — back one hundred fifty years into the story of another love triangle at Wando Passo at the height of the Civil War...
May 1861. Claire's great-great-great grand-mother, Adelaide DeLay, a beautiful thirty-three-year-old spinster from a top-drawer Charleston family, arrives at Wando Passo by boat, having made a marriage of convenience to the plantation's future master, Harlan DeLay. As Addiecomes down the gangway, she catches the eye of the plantation's steward, Jarry, Harlan's black half brother. Trans-fixed, she sees something in Jarry's eyes like a question that, once posed, you cannot rest until you have the answer to.
In the present, when two eroded skeletons turn up buried in shallow graves, Ransom becomes obsessed with the identities of the bodies and what happened to them. Did the past triangle — involving Addie, Harlan, and Jarry — culminate in murder? As his marriage to Claire continues to unravel, Ran begins to wonder whether disturbing echoes of the past are leading him, Marcel, and Claire toward a similar, tragic outcome in the present.
A fast-paced adventure story filled with lyrical writing, wicked humor, and unforgettable characters, Back to Wando Passo propels the two love stories, linked by place through time, to a simultaneous crescendo of betrayal, revenge, and redemption, and asks whether the present is doomed to ceaselessly repeat the past — or if it can sometimes change and redeem it.
"Payne's richly ornate Southern saga (after Gravesend Light) follows Ransom Hill, a current New York cabbie and former '80s songwriter-in-demand, back South. Ran is rejoining his estranged wife, Claire DeLay, and their two small children at Wando Passo, the South Carolina rice plantation Claire has inherited. Originally a poor boy from North Carolina, Ran truly loves his Charleston-born, flaky musician wife of 19 years. But the past dogs Ran: Claire, a former concert pianist, finds work teaching music at a local college and reconnects with her childhood friend Marcel Jones, a black musician and sour ex-member of Ran's band. At Wando Passo, he excavates an old pot containing ceremonial objects, and, later, two corpses are unearthed — perhaps solving the mysterious disappearance of the Civil War master of the house, Harlan DeLay, and his Charleston wife, Addie, who soon get alternating diary entry — like chapters. Addie reveals her illicit romance with Harlan's black half-brother, Jarry, the son of a Cuban buja; their biracial love resonates with Claire's attraction to Marcel, while Ran's loopy purpose seems to be to release the ancestral curse so that the whole family can function again. Despite a rather too-tidy plot, Payne fashions elaborate prose and touching characterization into an absorbing tale. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"I try to ignore the blurbs that arrive with new novels. In my experience, every writer, no matter how surly or untalented, has a friend or two who will praise his work, if only to be rid of him. In this case, however, the praise that Pat Conroy, Annie Dillard and Lee Smith have lavished on fellow Southerner David Payne's fifth novel is largely deserved. 'Back to Wando Passo' is that most delicious... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) of guilty pleasures: a big, fat, decadent Southern-fried potboiler, fitfully brilliant, frequently over the top, chock-full of lust and betrayal, miscegenation and madness, but held together by Payne's gorgeous writing. At the very least, this should be the most literate beach read of the year. Payne gives us two stories, both centered on a South Carolina plantation called Wando Passo. One is in the present and the other is set — when else? — during the Civil War. We start with 45-year-old Ransom (Ran) Hill, once a rock star, now a wreck, who has returned to Wando Passo to reconcile with his wife, Claire, who owns the rotting mansion and lives there with their two small children. Twenty years earlier, aristocratic Claire left Juilliard to play in redneck Ran's band. Now she's teaching in a music school run by Marcel Jones, a black man who also played in the group. Complications ensue. The brilliant but erratic Ran is off his meds because they mess up his love life. His med-free state makes possible a sensational sex scene but also makes him crazy. Soon the police are after him, and Claire is finding steady, sane Marcel better company than her increasingly delusional husband. As this plays out, we read in alternating chapters about a drama that starts in Charleston in the early days of the Civil War. The local swells are convinced that they'll rout the Yankees within weeks and then conquer Cuba and Mexico, whereupon 'a Southern slaveholding empire will stretch from Maryland to the Yucatan.' We meet Claire's ancestor, Adelaide (Addie) Huger, a virgin of 33 who reads Lord Byron and dreams of true love. When it eludes her, she settles for marriage to rugged Harlan DeLay, the master of Wando Passo. Arriving at her new home, she endures the wedding night from hell, then learns that her husband's slave mistress lives on the property, as does his black half brother, Jarry, also a slave, who shares Addie's love of Byron and proves to be far more her soul mate than her lusty husband is. Parallels emerge. In both stories, the wife is drawn to the sensitive black man. Both involve voodoo, and the participants in the present-day story struggle to understand two unexplained deaths in 1865. In both the past and present, all the major characters are boldly drawn, but the Civil War story is the more gripping. The strongest scenes describe the horror of the war and how it changes and in some cases ennobles various characters. The glory of the book, though, is the writing. Here is Addie, torn between her love of the South and her growing hatred of slavery. 'And Chancellorsville, dear God, another victory — and how is she to feel? Her heart cannot but exult for Lee and for his gallant troops. But, oh, the cost. Jackson, lost, oh, Jackson. They shall not soon find his like. For Addie, now, despite the exultation, the notion of young boys with feathers in their caps, running yelling up a hill behind a flag into a withering rain of iron fire, dying with high hearts and cheers upon their lips, no longer seems so fine as once it did. Against the roll, the absent names, the funerals, the mothers dressed in black and clutching handkerchiefs, not to weep in, but to catch some last, brief scent their sons or husbands left in them, the waste, the appalling, simple waste of it, on fine May mornings such as this, makes her want to fall and beat her fists against the earth and cry, What for? What is it for?' If that sort of writing delights you, you should try this novel. Parts of it are overwrought, but between its lurid plot and its lush prose, it'll keep you reading." Reviewed by Patrick Anderson, whose e-mail address is mondaythrillers(at symbol)aol.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[A] luscious, engaging, and heartfelt novel with plenty to say about individual responsibility and the legacy of slavery." Library Journal
"Payne handles this novel of love, loss, and betrayal deftly." Booklist
"Payne's plot is a fine, twisty marvel, but what ultimately sells this epic is his outsized passion. Steamy sex, family life in all its closeness and conflict, landscape in high relief, quasi-biblical prose poetry — about the only thing this gusher lacks is irony. And that's a big plus." Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
David Payne is the author of four previous novels: Confessions of a Taoist on Wall Street, which won the prestigious Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship Award, Early from the Dance, Ruin Creek, and Gravesend Light. He lives in North Carolina.
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