What To Keep
What to Keep is a slow, quiet character piece about a woman reconnecting with her family history after inheriting her ancestral home.
At forty Juliette Carlton is hardly living the life she always dreamed of. A three-time divorcee, she works as a blackjack dealer in a Las Vegas casino. She’s broke thanks to her most recent ex-husband, who racked up a ton of debt in her name and disappeared with their furniture. Then she receives a call from an attorney informing her that Grey Alexander, the uncle she hasn’t seen in 35 years, recently passed away. As his only living relative, he left everything he had to her, primarily the family homestead, Magnolia Hall.
Juliette’s first impulse is to hire a realtor and sell the place without bothering to visit it. Then she finds herself abruptly fired from her job and in desperate need of money. To ensure the sale is handled properly, she travels to Greensville, North Carolina, to check out the property. There, she discovers her uncle was having money problems of his own. Most of the furniture was sold off in recent months, and the house has fallen into disrepair. If she wants to sell it, she’s going to have to fix it up, most likely by herself. As she tries to get the job done, she is joined by Tildy Butler, her uncle’s longtime housekeeper and closest friend. Tildy encourages her to stay and make Magnolia Hall her home, but Juliette is sure she wants to get back to Vegas.
This is the kind of book where there’s not much to discuss. It’s a very quiet, leisurely sort of read. In other words, very little happens. Juliette and Tildy wander around the house, talking about its history and her family’s past. Eventually Juliette strikes up a light relationship with Ron Tanner, her uncle’s attorney. She thinks about her troubled relationship with her mother and the father who abandoned her at an early age. This is all told in first person and the present tense by Juliette, an interesting stylistic device.
Meanwhile, the author alternates Juliette’s story with that of her ancestor Charlotte Alexander, who came to Magnolia Hall as a young bride and gave it its name. Charlotte’s tale is told through entries from her diary, as she struggles to deal with her experiences as a young wife and mother during the Civil War. Though they seem unrelated at first, the storylines eventually converge.
This is a generally well-written read by an author with an easy style. At the same time it’s never exactly compelling or truly involving. The characters are pleasant company, but not all that deep. The conversations between Juliette and Tildy started to seem a little repetitive after a while, and none of the revelations that come to light along the way are surprising. I did like the atypical ending though.
What to Keep isn’t an exciting read by any means, and the character drama wasn’t engrossing enough to keep me from setting the book down a few times. But it is nicely told and readers who enjoy slow, Southern-flavored tales may find it worth a look.