North Carolina Literary Review Online 2021

Page 144



THEMES THAT PERSIST: COMING-OFAGE TALES OF RACE, FAMILY, AND IDENTITY a review by Amanda Shingleton Robles Sion Dayson. As a River. Jaded Ibis Press, 2019. Molly Dektar. The Ash Family. Simon & Schuster, 2019.

AMANDA SHINGLETON ROBLES grew up in Morehead City, NC, and earned her BA in English and Communications from ECU. She is currently a graduate student in the ECU English Department as well as a teacher at Southwood Elementary School in Kinston, NC. Her writings have appeared in The East Carolinian. SION DAYSON was born in New York, grew up in North Carolina, and currently lives in Valencia, Spain. Her work has appeared in The Writer, The Rumpus, Electric Literature, Hunger Mountain, Utne Reader, The Wall Street Journal, and several anthologies. She has an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

ABOVE Sion Dayson, recipient of the

2021 Crook’s Corner Book Prize, a $5000 award for the best debut novel set in the American South (selected by final judge Monique Truong)



As a River, Sion Dayson’s debut novel, artfully tells the story of a young man, Greer, who must return home to Bannen, GA, a small, dirt-road town that most of its residents never leave, to care for his sick mother. Dayson’s novel crosses decades, and interspersed with Greer’s story is his mother Elizabeth’s love story about the man Greer believes was his father. Their love had been “fast and deep” (25), and Elizabeth lives under the cloud of her grief for the rest of her quiet life after she loses this lover in a tragic accident shortly before Greer’s birth. When the adult Greer returns to Bannen, he meets young Ceiley, whose father is also unknown to her, and soon Ceiley and her mother Esse’s own mysteries add more complications to the novel. Ceiley latches onto Greer, captivated by his stories of worldly travel, as well as the older male presence her life was lacking. In the novel’s present it is sixteen years since now thirtyyear-old Greer left home, the site of his first, star-crossed love and his discovery of the shocking truth of his father’s identity. During his youth, Greer’s griefstricken mother never spoke of his father, and somewhere in the blank space he longed to fill, he

fell for Caroline, a girl it’s dangerous for him to be involved with, for in Bannen, “colored boys who went near white girls – that always had a terrible end” (65). But Caroline was spirited and in love and wanted to “forget every stupid rule we were ever taught” (64) as they explored the intensity of their feelings for one another – until a secret Greer uncovers about their pasts inspires him to flee, mortified and heartbroken. Dayson weaves an unexpected tale, quickly pulling readers in with intrigue and maintaining suspense until the novel’s end. And indeed, questions may linger unanswered in the reader’s mind even then. What were the circumstances surrounding Esse’s becoming a young mother to Ceiley? What happened to Caroline and Greer’s love child? The novel’s open-endedness may be frustrating for some readers but could also allow for the possibility of a sequel. Strong imagery in the novel connects readers to both the physical and emotional state of Dayson’s characters, with metaphors like “that of a tumor resting too close to her heart” (8) to describe Elizabeth’s fragile condition. The way Greer utilizes words to absorb and process life might reflect the reader’s