Crooked Hallelujah: Kelli Jo Ford
Kelli Jo Ford’s novel is a deeply rewarding read. Comparisons to the work of Louise Erdrich are inevitable and unavoidable (and Kelli Jo mentioned Louise in our conversation as one of her most important influences.) This is a novel of relationships and family told through the voices of four generations of Cherokee women and to a lesser extent, the men who come in and out of their lives. The narrative weaves together strands of familial cloth into what emerges as a beautiful and compelling pattern that we experience fully as the story is told.
At the outset of the book, we are in 1974 in the Cherokee Nation, eastern Oklahoma, where fifteen-year-old Justine is growing up in a family dominated by women – her mother, Lula, and her mother’s mother, Granny. We follow Justine, and her daughter, Reney, through a series of challenges in Oklahoma and Texas and back to Oklahoma, where family and roots call out to her.
Kelli Jo Ford is a fine writer, and manages her characters and their stories well. Her intergenerational story is complicated, and the multiple narrative voices take some concentration to follow, but her writing is warm and deft, and we are rewarded in the end by the beauty and depth of her characters and their lives. This family of strong Cherokee women continually face challenges with strength and wisdom. They make the necessary sacrifices for the people in their lives and go on living despite all the difficulties they face. They don’t always get along – these women are real people, not caricatures. They do not always succeed in understanding each other or overcoming the difficulties and challenges they face. There are conflicts over religion and individuality. But these women are bound by blood, heart, and a deeply felt love that carries them forward despite all. I came away from this book with an appreciation for the strength and perceptiveness of Cherokee women.
Kelli Jo Ford is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. She is the recipient of numerous awards, a National Artist Fellowship by the Native Arts & Cultures Foundation, and a Dobie Paisano Fellowship. Her fiction has appeared in the Paris Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Missouri Review, and the anthology Forty Stories: New Writing published by Harper in 2012. She now lives in Virginia with her husband, poet Scott Weaver.
My conversation with Kelli Jo was her first interview about Crooked Hallelujah. She is a new writer many of us will want to follow in the years to come.
Author website here.
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