I love it when I read a book and can’t stop thinking about it. And that’s exactly what I’ve found in Laura Ellen Scott’s The Juliet.
Set against the surprisingly rich backdrop of Death Valley, The Juliet is the tale of a cursed emerald whose most famous owner was a celebrated prostitute named Lily Joy. Integral to the legend of the emerald is the Mystery House, a glorified shack perched above Centenary, Nevada.
The story in the forefront is of a retired cowboy actor named Rigg Dexon who has taken up residence in the Mystery House. The blooming wildflowers bring tourists to his door, and draw him out of seclusion. What follows is a tale rich with both generosity and greed, fortune and disaster.
Scott gives us the emerald’s 100-year history in time-jumping chapters. She does this seamlessly, with no feeling of “where am I now?” There is a broad cast of characters, and each one is as fascinating as the next. It’s really fun to read about people who willingly forsake everything for a jewel.
The Juliet is mesmerizing and haunting. It begs the question: Is there really a curse that follows the Juliet, or is it just greed that does its owners in?
You probably won’t find a character to love in Peckerwood. But the thing about this book is, you don’t need to love the characters to love the book. And though the characters aren’t likable people, each character is developed enough to understand why he or she might be such a shithead.
The story centers on the symbiotic relationship between a redneck crime boss and the local sheriff, and the forces that cause their relationship to implode. One of those forces being Terry Hickerson, peckerwood-extraordinaire of Spruce, Missouri. Terry usually sticks to booze, drugs, women, and theft. But he’s not smart enough to stay within his depth. And a chance encounter with the sheriff’s daughter lands him in the middle of two most powerful and dangerous men in town.
From the very first page, Jedidiah Ayres grabs the reader by the nuts and demands attention. Ayres builds each scene carefully, sparing no detail without wasting words. The lifestyle and locations are distinctly southern, but could be related to the American underbelly in any state. Poverty and inadequate education yield similar results anywhere in the country.
It doesn’t take long to realize that the characters in Peckerwood aren’t striving for redemption. But their paths are so intriguing, you have to strap in to see just how low they’ll go.
Peckerwood is Jedidiah Ayres’s debut novel. He also has a short story collection titled A F*ckload of Shorts that I’m excited to read.
In Peckerwood, Ayres has found raw, gritty perfection that will stick with you for days. I can’t wait to see what he does next.