One of our recommended books for 2019 is In West Mills by De'Shawn Charles Winslow

IN WEST MILLS


Azalea “Knot” Centre is determined to live life as she pleases. Let the people of West Mills say what they will; the neighbors’ gossip won’t keep Knot from what she loves best: cheap moonshine, nineteenth-century literature, and the company of men. And yet, Knot is starting to learn that her freedom comes at a high price. Alone in her one-room shack, ostracized from her relatives and cut off from her hometown, Knot turns to her neighbor, Otis Lee Loving, in search of some semblance of family and home.

Otis Lee is eager to help. A lifelong fixer, Otis Lee is determined to steer his friends and family away from decisions that will cause them heartache and ridicule.

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Azalea “Knot” Centre is determined to live life as she pleases. Let the people of West Mills say what they will; the neighbors’ gossip won’t keep Knot from what she loves best: cheap moonshine, nineteenth-century literature, and the company of men. And yet, Knot is starting to learn that her freedom comes at a high price. Alone in her one-room shack, ostracized from her relatives and cut off from her hometown, Knot turns to her neighbor, Otis Lee Loving, in search of some semblance of family and home.

Otis Lee is eager to help. A lifelong fixer, Otis Lee is determined to steer his friends and family away from decisions that will cause them heartache and ridicule. After his failed attempt as a teenager to help his older sister, Otis Lee discovers a possible path to redemption in the chaos Knot brings to his doorstep. But while he’s busy trying to fix Knot’s life, Otis Lee finds himself powerless to repair the many troubles within his own family, as the long-buried secrets of his troubled past begin to come to light.

Set in an African American community in rural North Carolina from 1941 to 1987, In West Mills is a magnificent, big-hearted small-town story about family, friendship, storytelling, and the redemptive power of love.

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  • Bloomsbury
  • Hardcover
  • June 2019
  • 272 Pages
  • 9781635573404

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$26.00

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About De'Shawn Charles Winslow

De'Shawn Charles Winslow is the author of In West Mills, CREDIT Julie R KeresztesDe’Shawn Charles Winslow was born and raised in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. He is a 2017 graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and holds a BFA in creative writing and an MA in English literature from Brooklyn College. He lives in New York.

Praise

“Stellar. . . . Winslow has a finely tuned ear for the way the people of this small town talk, and his unpretentiously poetic prose goes down like a cool drink of water on a hot day.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“In the brave, hard-bitten, but deeply vulnerable Knot, Winslow has created a character as memorable and colorful as any created by Knot’s favorite writer, Charles Dickens.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“There are plenty of adjectives that could describe Winslow’s debut: endearing, certainly. Hilarious, absolutely. Charming, for days. But none of them are adequate to this quietly complicated, impossibly big-hearted novel about family, migration and the unbearable difficulties of love. Here’s a cast of characters you won’t soon forget.” —Ayana Mathis, bestselling author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

“This novel will grab you first by the ears, and then by the hand, and then by the heart.” —Rebecca Makkai, author of The Great Believers

“The scope of this slim novel astonishes me: it encompasses an entire world.” —Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You

Discussion Questions

1. Discuss the significance of character names and nicknames throughout the novel.

2. How important is the setting to the events depicted in In West Mills? As the book moves through time, how do characters’ behaviors reflect changing social mores and/or historical events that are not explicitly mentioned? How would this story be different if it did not begin in the rural South in the mid-late 20th century?

3. In Chapter One, why does Knot have such a sudden change of heart and throw Pratt out of her house after observing the previous night that being with him felt “better than before”? How might her life have been different if she had allowed Pratt to stay?

4. What is your feeling towards Knot as a character? Did your opinion of her change as the novel progressed? If so, when and why?

5. What was your reaction to Knot’s decisions to give up her children? Do you view her actions as selfish or altruistic?

6. Would you consider Knot to be an alcoholic? Discuss the impact her drinking has on her personal relationships. Do you think the people closest to her have a negative or positive influence on her drinking?

7. Knot’s favorite book is Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop. How do the major themes of that novel (alienation, gender and family dynamics, poverty, single parenthood, addiction) resonate in her own life?

8. Compare and contrast the marriages and other romantic relationships depicted in the novel. Which couples or individuals do you most identify with, if any, and why?

9. Early on, Miss Noni tells Knot that sometimes keeping secrets is “best for everybody,” and later in her life Knot professes a similar opinion. Discuss how the idea of keeping a secret from someone for his or her own good plays out in the novel, particularly in relation to Knot’s children and Otis Lee. Do you believe that any of the secrets kept from the characters in In West Mills are justified? Why or why not?

10. Discuss Knot’s relationships with Otis Lee and Valley. Compare and contrast them with her relationships with other men in her life. For Otis Lee in particular, what roles do he and Knot play in each other’s life in addition to being friends?

11. Analyze Pep’s response to Otis Lee and Knot’s friendship. Was she justified in writing the letter to Knot’s family? Why or why not?

12. How does the “nature vs. nurture” debate play out in relation to Fran and Eunice? In what ways do they display similarities to Knot and to each other, despite having been raised in different families?

13. Compare and contrast Knot’s “chosen family” with her blood relatives. What can we infer about Knot’s upbringing based on the interactions we see between her and her parents? How are her feelings towards her parents reflected in her current behaviors? Did anything about Knot’s family members or her relationship with them surprised you? If so, what and why?

14. At one point Otis Lee observes that he’s watched women in his life, including Essie and Knot, “choose sadness.” Do you think this is an accurate description? Why or why not?

15. Throughout the novel, Knot displays a pattern of pushing people away. Why does she welcome Pratt upon his return?

Suggested reading

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Kate Vaiden by Reynolds Price