All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: No One Is Coming To Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

on January 9, 2018

No One Is Coming To Save Us
Stephanie Powell Watts
Penguin Random House AUS
2018, 367p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

The Great Gatsby brilliantly recast in the contemporary South: a powerful first novel about an extended African-American family and their colliding visions of the American Dream.

JJ Ferguson has returned home to Pinewood, North Carolina to build his dream home and to woo his high school sweetheart, Ava. But he finds that the people he once knew and loved have changed, just as he has. Ava is now married, and wants a baby more than anything. The decline of the town’s once-thriving furniture industry has made Ava’s husband Henry grow distant and frustrated. Ava’s mother Sylvia has put her own life on hold as she caters to and meddles with those around her, trying to fill the void left by her absent son. And Don, Sylvia’s undeserving but charming husband, just won’t stop hanging around.

JJ’s newfound wealth forces everyone to consider what more they want and deserve from life than what they already have—and how they might go about getting it. Can they shape their lives to align with their wishes rather than their realities? Or are they resigned to the rhythms of the particular lives they lead? No One Is Coming to Save Us is a revelatory debut from an insightful voice that combines a universally resonant story with an intimate glimpse into the hearts of one family.

This is pitched as a modern day The Great Gatsby but I have to admit my knowledge of that classic is basic at best. I’ve only read it once, never studied it, haven’t seen the movie, etc. It isn’t my favourite and I get the basic similarities with this novel – but I’m not particularly equipped to analyse just how much it really is a contemporary re-imagining.

The novel is set in South Carolina relatively recently (Obama is president) although to be honest, I actually forgot when I began this that it was set in current day and it took me a while to realise it again. The town seems to be mostly poor, the factories that employed most of the workforce shutting down one by one.

Ava is close to 40 and she desperately wants a baby. She and her husband have been married a long time and they’ve been trying a while and have tried lots of different things, including IVF which they no longer have the money to continue investigating. Ava has fallen pregnant but each time has been unsuccessful in getting past the first trimester. Ava works in a bank as a senior loans officer, seemingly one of the few from their area to go to college, get a degree and a desk job. Her husband Henry works at the furniture factory and is chronically dissatisfied with life. He’s very attractive but has no real work ethic and doesn’t seem to know what he wants.

Ava and Henry have purchased Ava’s childhood home, the home her mother Sylvia and her father Don raised her and her brother in. With her parents separated now, Sylvia has an apartment on the other side of town but she finds it sterile and uninviting, preferring to spend all her time at Ava and Henry’s. When JJ Ferguson returns to town, Sylvia awaits his visit. JJ as a teenager spent many hours and dinners at Sylvia’s house due to his friendship with Ava. Everyone knows JJ loves Ava and the huge house he’s building on the hill has everything to do with her.

But if JJ’s in town to woo Ava, there’s not really a whole lot of that. It takes a huge part of the book before they even come into contact with each other and it’s all very low key. Ava’s life has started to fall apart – she’s uncovered a secret about her husband that {should have} broken her, given her current preoccupation but even that seems laid back and casual like Ava can’t be bothered getting the truth or talking to her husband or making any plans to do anything and will just wander around. She spends time at JJ’s house but no one seems to really care. Henry hasn’t come home and doesn’t notice and how are these people married? Everyone is just wandering around overnight and their spouse’s barely even notice that none of them have been home because they aren’t either.

There’s none of the flash of Gatsby – despite JJ’s apparent wealth and the ginormous house on the hill, it’s unfurnished and he seems to be constantly saying he needs to do things before it’s ready to show people but they never happen. If Sylvia hadn’t sprung him I’m not sure he would’ve even made contact with her, despite his professed desire to see her. I’m not sure really why he was back. He knows Ava’s married. He buys this big house that he doesn’t really seem to be doing anything with. There’s no opulence, no parties, no romantic overtures. Ava’s marriage is falling apart but he doesn’t know that, nor does he really actually make much of attempt to do anything. I’m not even sure what it is he does now that he’s back.

Perhaps the best part of the book for me was Sylvia’s grief and the way in which that was written and how that story played out. I had a bit of an inkling, just from early on but even I didn’t expect the grim reality of it and the way in which it had shaped Sylvia’s very existence, was incredibly sad. I feel as though that is perhaps why she continues to speak to Marcus, an inmate in a nearby jail who dialed her number at random one day, just for someone to talk to. Marcus gives her something that no one else can, most importantly the one she wants it from the most. Her husband Don, whom she is estranged from, seems a waste of space but yet he still continues to come and visit her inexplicably whilst treating other women abominably. The men seem chronically unfaithful, with the exception of JJ, who perhaps deserves the most and gets the least.

I have to say that I found this a rather unsatisfying read. There were parts that were interesting to me – Sylvia’s struggle and even her difficult relationship with Ava, which had survived Ava’s teen and college years only to begin to stutter as Ava approached her forties. The only character I really enjoyed reading about was Jay/JJ and he didn’t form anywhere near as large a part of the story as it focused more on the female characters of Sylvia and Ava.

I really struggled with this one. I still don’t know how I felt about it. I didn’t really like it… times I was definitely pushing myself through it and although it got better the further into it I got, I was never really connected to the story or the characters. But I didn’t dislike it either and I could appreciate some of the writing. So I guess I would describe this one as middle of the road.


Book #3 of 2018



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