Texas Review Press
Paperback, 978-1-6800-3197-3, 229 pgs., $21.95
May 15, 2020
“People build barns and erect fences, scrape off the mesquites, and irrigate the sere soil, but the land stays true to its original self.”
Returning to your childhood home can be fraught with uncertainties, discoveries, rocky relationships, forgiveness, and acceptance.
Sixty-five-year-old Jamie Wright has returned to Silver Falls, Texas, which is not too far from Lubbock, and is awaiting the imminent death of her father, Big Jim. Big Jim has a lot of explaining to do for his questionable actions over the years, but he will go to his grave with little verbal atonement. Instead, Jamie is left to uncover several terrible truths about her first husband, Brady Joe, and about Big Jim’s selfish manipulation amidst his philanthropic activities in Silver Falls.
Jamie waits for weeks for her father to die so that she can claim her inheritance and return to her life in Dallas, but the past and her place in Silver Falls and at her daddy’s ranch tug at her and grind her feet to a reluctant halt. Sorting out her father’s secrets turns into a monumental task.
The Illusion of Leaving is Jeannette Brown’s debut novel that showcases the truth about how the past never releases its hold, even as we run away from it. As Jamie navigates the new relationships with her fellow high-school cheerleaders Gina and Wanda, she realizes nothing has changed, and yet everything has changed. They all have one foot in the past, even as they grapple with aging bodies and minds and deal with frustration and anger over old mistakes, disappointments, and betrayal. Brown’s writing style is spare and lyrical, somewhat humorous, and often melancholy, giving the overall story a solid foundation of emotions, varied characterization, and a strong character arc for Jamie.
The Illusion of Leaving is a literary treasure inspired by the harsh West Texas landscape that magnifies life’s pitfalls and bleak beauty and relationships laden with hidden crevices of enlightenment. Small towns are notorious pits of gossip, and Silver Falls is held together by enough secrets to keep wagging tongues busy for years. Brown paints this small Texas town in a fading light, ready to blow away like a tumbleweed, yet filled with people who know when to drop the gossip mongering and come together during times of crisis.
The tornado toward the end of the story provides a broad stroke of imagery that mimics the havoc in Jamie’s life following her father’s death and the resulting life-changing revelations. As the townspeople come together to clear the tornado’s destruction, Jamie is already picking up the pieces of her own life and reassembling them into something new.
While younger readers might not relate to Jamie’s aging appearance and decades of grievances and regrets, all readers will appreciate the portrayal of the small-town dichotomy of a close-knit community and backstabbing friends and family. Brown accurately captures the blistering West Texas heat that saps the moisture from tender skin and from the wide-open spaces, providing an arid yet exquisite backdrop to one woman’s difficult journey of accepting her past and embracing the life she was never meant to leave.
Born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, Jeannette Brown was raised in Texas. Her work has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Southwestern American Literature, and New Millennium Writings, among others. She is the co-editor of Literary Lunch, a food anthology. She has received residencies from the Sewanee Writer’s Conference, Rivendell Writers’ Colony, and Hedgebrook/India.