Perish follows four members of the Turner clan: Julie B., a woman who regrets her wasted youth and the time spent under Helen Jean's thumb; Alex, a police officer grappling with a dark and twisted past; Jan, mother of two, who yearns to go to school and leave Jerusalem and all of its trauma behind for good; And Lydia, a woman whose marriage is falling apart because her body can't seem to stay pregnant; as they're called home to say goodbye to their mother and grandmother, Helen Jean. Told through alternating chapters, and set in a vividly drawn, tight-knit rural, Black Texan community, Perish explores the effects of inherited trauma and intra-generational violence and pain as the family's "reunion" unearths long-kept secrets and forces each member to ask themselves important questions about who is deserving of forgiveness and who bears the cross of blame.
[The] words in the novel’s opening section...hum, like a live electrical wire, throughout the rest of the novel and the lives of this extended family ... There are moments in Perish where it is difficult to track all the points of view and personal histories ... But this seems to be Watkins’s point: The Turner family story is chaotic and puzzling. Trauma narratives often don’t abide by the linear conventions of storytelling; instead, the truth refracts through multiple perspectives. Each character tells herself or himself a different version of the story in order to survive. Watkins artfully creates a complex portrait of one extended family, and animates how the contours and scars of suffering shape each character’s trajectory ... Watkins’s prose is effortless and forthright; she leans into the voices of her characters. In certain moments, she uses repetition, dialect and varying sentence lengths to build intense, aria-like cadences ... These complicated, resilient characters are victims and heroes at the same time ... These contradictions are one of the novel’s greatest strengths ... This is an impressive feat of storytelling ... This novel contains multitudes. It’s a difficult read and a tender story of silences and secrets. It’s a novel about coming home, despite that home being broken. And it’s a brave triumph of a novel that readers won’t forget long after finishing it.
Searing ... Watkins elucidates the complex fallout from Wayne's birth by moving back and forth through time and introducing the perspectives of other family members ... Watkins deftly captures the fresh cadence of January's voice ... As Watkins details the violation of the children in this family, shows the reverberating impact these acts have, and makes the reader empathize with each authentic, distinctive character, Perish can be a stomach-churning read. It's a raw but necessary book ... Watkins has shaken off the shame of the ultimate taboo and brought it to light through the story of the unforgettable women who bear its burden. This novel will serve as a hand extended through the darkness to a great many of its readers.
Watkins’ approach is as suspenseful as a crime novel, as dramatic as a soap opera, and as familiar as your own family ... Perish is raw and deeply upsetting, but Watkins manages difficult, taboo subjects with grace and grit ... Watkins handles her characters with deep respect and care, capturing voice down to minute details and trauma in its most distilled and digestible form without sacrificing impact.