One of the confusing and wonderful things about this protagonist is that nothing about her is straight forward—not her history, nor her positionality, nor her sexuality. The reader is allowed to experience a wide-berth of empathy for a wild cast of characters, all through the ever-changing lens of Ellen’s shaky perspective. It isn’t so much that she is an unreliable narrator—perhaps the opposite is true. She is reliable in a way that takes true grit and complexity, which is to say, a roving, punny, anti-hero. Boyd’s protagonist allows the novel to showcase a true understanding of the current American political landscape, without being academic, inaccessible, or polemic. What results is a novel that is riveting from start to finish.
...personal, political and original ... Many of your favorite mystery/thriller novelists could write a strong plot starring a version of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber. Few can write as well as they plot. Boyd does ... she can leap nimbly from fear to scorn to grief to comedy, doesn’t shrink from politics and racism, and still can include a love story that’s not a digression. This is the kind of novel in which the author has everyone’s number, starting with her own.
Ellen is a nuanced protagonist who is by turns empathetic and enraging. Without clearly defined motivations, though, she comes off as a bit of a white savior, and, in turn, revelations tend to fall flat. Ellen’s chosen form of activism, however, is endlessly discussable, and the tortured history of Charleston makes for a compelling setting.
The novel is incredibly fast-paced and nearly lighthearted at times, despite its dark and tangled subject matter. With the trappings of a thriller, Boyd’s meditation on family bonds and white guilt is a curious but rewarding departure for the loudmouthed and hilarious Ellen, and a satisfyingly strange conclusion to the arc of her wild life.
...a wildly ambitious page-turner that defies easy categorization ... Unexpectedly light, even chatty, given the subject matter—white supremacy, unspeakable violence, American extremism—the novel is a family drama with all the flourishes of a thriller. Discombobulating—in a good way.