THE THINGS I KNOW BEST
Reader reviews on Amazon for Lynne Hinton's second novel, THINGS I KNOW BEST, indicate that most of those readers were disappointed not to receive another FRIENDSHIP CAKE. That was Hinton's first novel, and it was a delicious whip of church women, their life events and their recipes. Small wonder that this new one isn't to the taste of Cake fans; THE THINGS I KNOW BEST is altogether darker, tangier, and heavier.
That isn't to say it's a dark book; rather, it's a quiet book, and perhaps closer to its author's heart. When she wrote it, Hinton was a United Church of Christ pastor. In an interview on her website, she says that she believes the issue of race relations is the most important one we can resolve today. That issue is central to this book, which tells two interracial stories: one about eighteen-year-old Tessa Ivy of Pleasant Cross, North Carolina, who has a relationship with a boy of mixed race, and one about her mother and her mother's relationship with her best friend, an African-American woman, which is soured for reasons no one will discuss.
Tessa comes from three generations of "Ivy women" who believe they "see things" --- Tessa herself reads tea leaves and interprets dreams. Of course, no one's "knowing," as the Ivy family calls it, has led any of the women to great fortune, although Mama Bertie does use her gift to help the local funeral director keep his schedule straight. They live in a trailer park, and Tessa works at the local supercenter. Much of the background of Tessa's family is revealed during the women's dinner preparation (one is best at cooking meat, another vegetables and a third takes pride in side dishes).
Tessa says, "I suppose it would seem to any ordinary person that Knowing would make the women in our family rich or smart or at the very least well respected; but the truth is the Knowing hasn't given us anything extra. It seems, in fact, to have created a curse. All the Ivy women lean towards making bad decisions, especially when it comes to money and men. And just as we have accepted the ways we all Know, we also have accepted each other's poor choices in husbands and fathers for our children."
THINGS I KNOW BEST concerns Tessa's newly adult attempts to figure out how to make different choices for herself. When the enigmatic and devout Reverend Renfrew comes to town in his Airstream trailer, towing his son Sterling, Tessa finds out that there are things she couldn't possibly "know." Some of those are deeply sad and frightening, others are wonderfully joyful --- but above all, they're true and worth knowing, as opposed to "knowing." Or, as Tessa's grandmother says, "A body could know everything there is to know about the future, but that don't guarantee happiness." Neither will reading this book --- but it's worth a peek.
--- Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick
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