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.)
"[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.