The Millions

Fiction is a Power Trip: The Millions Interviews Eleanor Henderson

In June 2011 Stacy D’Erasmo wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Eleanor Henderson “writes the hell out of every moment, every scene, every perspective, every fleeting impression, every impulse and desire and bit of emotional detritus.” D’Erasmo was referring to Henderson’s much lauded debut novel, Ten Thousand Saints, but Henderson’s passion and skill are equally evident in her follow up novel, The Twelve-Mile Straight. In her latest, Henderson has taken a significant dogleg in subject, time, and locale, leaving behind the straight-edge movement of 1980s New York and delivering us with equal skill into Cotton County, Georgia in the acutely troubled era of the early 1930s. It is into this dusty, highly charged tableau that Elma Jesup, the teenage daughter of a white sharecropper, gives birth to an unusual set of twins—one light-skinned and the other dark—born of different patrimony and quickly coined the Gemini twins. In the rush of the book’s opening salvo, Elma’s father, Juke, accuses Genus Jackson, a black field hand, of Elma’s rape, and Juke, along with Elma’s fiancé, Freddie Wilson, lead the mob that lynch Genus from the gourd tree. Freddie, adding insult to murder, subsequently drags Genus’s body down the unnamed road known only as the Twelve-Mile Straight. It is on the other side of this tragedy that the novel slows and deepens, exploring the irreparable damage done by family secrets; secrets made all the more damning by the fact that family provided the only stability there was to be had.

I talked with Eleanor Henderson about her writing and research process, if the film adaptation of her debut altered the way she works, and the particular challenges of writing a novel of historical fiction that is perhaps unexpectedly relevant

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

Related Interests

More from The Millions

The Millions13 min read
Eight Hot Trollopes
An experiment for 21st-century readers: let’s take a quick tour of the love scenes of a famous Victorian novelist to see if his writings still enflame. The post Eight Hot Trollopes appeared first on The Millions.
The Millions6 min read
Tuesday New Release Day: Hemon, Bob-Waksberg, Martins, Awad, and More
Out this week: two enchanting debuts, writing lessons from an editor of the NY Times Op-Ed page, and short stories from the creator of BoJack Horseman. The post Tuesday New Release Day: Hemon, Bob-Waksberg, Martins, Awad, and More appeared first on T
The Millions6 min read
Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Chung, Brodesser-Akner, Habila, Steinke, and More
This week's releases include ambitious debuts, the memoir of an amateur boxer, and novels called both 'Travelers' and 'The Travelers.' WHAT ARE THE ODDS? The post Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Chung, Brodesser-Akner, Habila, Steinke, and More ap