Jewel by Bret Lott
After struggling through The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt, I needed a refreshing read. The Corrections, Lonesome Dove and We Need to Talk about Kevin were all in my to-read pile, but I simply could not face tackling one of these quite yet. It would have been like running a marathon only to enter another marathon the next day.
But I couldn’t face a fluff book, either. I’ve read all of the Jane Green novels my library has to offer, ditto Sophie Kinsella, and rather than turn to Marian Keyes, I decided to find some book that would be timeless, captiviating and an overall excellent reading experience.
Enter Jewel by Bret Lott. The novel opens with a woman telling her husband that she is pregnant with their sixth (and last) child. Set in 1943, the novel is epic in its scope, spanning two states and four decades as it depicts a unique relationship between a mother and the daughter who is both a burden and a blessing to her.
Part of what makes Jewel so appealing is how familiar it feels. It seems like a cross between The Grapes of Wrath and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, maybe with a splash of Faulkner-esque Southern Gothic and maybe a little Toni Morrison for good measure.
Over and over, Jewel tries to find the American Dream for her child—and herself—by heading as far West as fast as she can. When she loses it, you cannot help but cheer her on as she clings to her dreams despite a husband with emotional problems and a crumbling family dynamic.
The novel is written in a beautifully sincere style, and Lott has captured Jewel’s voice so perfectly that I could not believe it when I discovered that 1) Bret is definitely a man and 2) was not raised in Mississippi, where the characters hail from.
If you are looking for a book that feels timeless but is not too taxing, please check out Jewel—and don’t be deterred by the Oprah’s Book Club stamp on the front cover. Even though I got it at a rummage sale and paid, oh, a quarter, this is a book worth buying — at full retail price, nonetheless.