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Salvation: A Novel Based on a True Story

Salvation: A Novel Based on a True Story

by Avery Caswell
Published by: Touchpoint Press
Publish Date: 2021
Genre(s): Fiction, Historical Fiction, BIPOC
HB&W Rating: 3.75
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Summer 1971, Del Munro, a single mother of four, is struggling to make ends meet when Mother Franklin, a traveling evangelist, offers to take her daughters to the beach in Savannah.

For nine-year-old Willie June and seven-year-old Glory, restless at the end of a long, hot summer in Charlotte, it’s a dream come true. To their beleaguered mother, it’s a much-needed reprieve.
But what seemed like a blessing soon turns into a nightmare when the girls are pressed into service by the morbidly obese Mother Franklin whose needs are as outsized as her ambitions.

When the girls fail to return, Del, evasive about the details of her arrangement with Mother Franklin, panics. People begin to wonder if instead of sending her daughters on vacation, she sold them to the evangelist.

Based on a true story, Salvation is an evocative and unforgettable saga about stolen innocence that explores the tragic mistakes made by desperate people and the false prophets who exploit their vulnerabilities.

Synopsis source: Goodreads


Thank you to the author for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I can only imagine what Del Munro’s life was like raising 4 children alone in a poor town with two jobs that still never seem to provide enough for her family. When one of those two jobs is lost, Del worries about how she’ll keep a roof over her head.

I loved the complexity of Del’s character. We know that she’s a God-fearing woman, but prideful and susceptible to manipulation. She’s at the end of her ropes, desperate, and allows her two little girls to leave with Mother Franklin (MF). I’m not sure if even she knows or understands what happened that day at the shiny kitchen table she’s so proud of, but it’s clear that whether she “sold” her girls to MF or simply misunderstood what was happening, she wanted her girls back. It was hard to tell though whether she wanted them back because she missed them or because she was expected to. I think she cared very much about what people thought of her and what they would say about her. So were her motivations and behavior an act for the benefit of the town, or did she genuinely miss her girls? I’ve made up my mind about this and I think that she truly loved them and wanted them back, but I’d be curious as to what others think.

The dynamic between the sisters was a bit confounding to me. I get that Willie-June (WJ) found her little sister, Glory, tiring and annoying, such is the crux of many older/younger sibling relationships, but there really didn’t seem to be much sisterly affection between them at all. If WJ had the opportunity to escape but she’d have to leave her sister behind, I got the feeling she’d do it without hesitation. Though, I have to admit I found Glory annoying myself. It’s ironic since this is the fictional telling of a true story as imparted by real-life Glory, whose name was changed (along with the others in the story) for the purposes of this book that Glory wasn’t really featured more in it. She felt like a secondary character to me.

Bill was another interesting character to me. One of Del’s bosses, she takes care of things around the house for him. He’s the town drunk, someone no one ever expects anything from. But for all is failings, he does something completely selfless to help Del get her girls back. Because the FBI wouldn’t help and Del was understandably afraid to involve the police, she doesn’t know what to do or who to turn to. Bill hires a PI to investigate where others refused, and Charlie Banks is hot on the trail.

The way the author was able to give voice to the central characters in the book was well done for such a short book, though for such a short book I do felt like it could be a bit slow. I personally have had some bad experiences with the evangelical south. I spent summers down in Memphis and northern Mississippi rural areas. Religion is central to everything, but don’t equate that with morality. As a result, this book struck a chord with me with its false prophets taking advantage of believers.

Detestable as MF’s behavior was, I’m not sure many would have faulted her for it at that time. That’s what makes this such a scary story. It’s abuse, plain and simple, but anyone who has ever been abused (physically, emotionally, etc) would tell you that abuse is never simple. For some abusers, their psychology allows them to justify their behavior, not seeing what they do as bad or unjustified. In MF’s mind, she’s trying to get by. She lessens the burden of a woman and gains helpers she needs. The woman gets some much-needed cash to make ends meet and less mouths to feed. MF uses an electric “switch,” which I’m guessing was an extension cord or similar, but that day and age, especially in poorer communities and rural areas, it was still pretty common to use a “switch” (thin tree branches/sticks) as a form of corporal punishment. And while she sets out to get rich by becoming a traveling preacher woman, I think she is also a true believer and sees her fleecing of others as a way God is providing for her, thus justifying her actions.

Complex characters, a horrifyingly believable story based on true events, and a quick read, if you like historical fiction and psychology, I think you’d enjoy this book.

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