Lorrie Moore called The Least You Need to Know, Lee Martin’s debut collection, “beautifully written stories of fathers and sons, and the large and small improvisations that make up American life.” USA Today hailed his memoir From Our House for its “moving” portrayal of “the complexities that exist in many American families-equal parts frustration, anger, yearning, and tenacious love. “Quakertown brings the prodigious literary gifts of this award-winning author to life in a beautifully written, deeply affecting story of hope, love, loss, forgiveness, and grace.
Based on a real-life episode in our nation’s history, Martin’s eagerly-anticipated first novel transports us back to North Texas in the 1920s-and into the lives of a segregated black community and their wealthy white brethren. Although separated by only a few miles, they live in two very different worlds marked by rigidly enforced class boundaries and the smoldering racial tensions of the deep South during the Jazz Age.
For the inhabitants of the flourishing black community of Quakertown, life can be sweet. On a warm night in May, when the magnolias are in bloom and rare white lilacs can be found growing wild along the Pecan Creek that runs along the edges of this fine Denton neighborhood, Little Washington Jones imagines there is no lovelier place in all of Texas. A yardman for the white families who live in the grand houses along Oak Street, Little is known for his miraculous way with a flower or a tree or a shrub. His half-white wife, Eugie, works as a seamstress at Neiman’s department store. Their daughter, Camellia, named for one of the most beautiful flowers, is a schoolteacher whose conflicted love for two men-one white, one black-becomes the catalyst for the story’s dramatic action.
As a child, Camellia met Kizer Bell when Little brought her along with him on his gardening rounds. Kizer, born lame to a powerful banker and a depressed, alcoholic mother, is secretly shamed by his deformity and knows he can never lead a completely whole life. The young Camellia is the only person who has ever treated him with real tenderness, and he treasures their precious time together. When they meet as adults, they renew their bond, and a youthful friendship blossoms into a deep and abiding love. Although Kizer’s father, Andrew, is a fair and kind-hearted man who likes and respects Little and his family, the lovers know there is no future for them. Instead, a pregnant Camellia makes plans to marry Ike Mattoon, the volatile, hell-raising son of a Baptist minister. Their story is played out against the backdrop of a town in turmoil, when Little Washington Jones is asked to do something completely unimaginable.
Imbued with Martin’s deep compassion, abiding wisdom, and profound humanity, Quakertown is an unforgettable story of two families, and of the redemption we seek but may not so easily find.