Nathan Harris’s debut novel is about Reconstruction: both the era following the Civil War and how we construct and reconstruct relationships. Old Ox, Georgia is a wooden sidewalked town of stores and homes, now filled with the tents of freedmen and whites returning from war with nowhere to go. George Walker lives with his wife Isabelle on 200 acres a half-hour donkey ride from town. George’s father had bought then leased many of the properties in Old Ox. George supported his wife and son Caleb by gradually selling off those properties.
The novel opens when George encounters Prentiss and Landry who have previously been enslaved on the plantation adjoining the Walkers’ property. George has become lost in his woods when walking endlessly following the news that his son had been killed in the war. When George tells Isabelle days later, she stops talking to him. Isabelle had previously met Prentiss when he attempted to steal a pair of socks drying on the clothesline. George hires Landry and Prentiss to help him clear some of his acres so he can begin to farm.
A brief review can do no justice to the pain and beauty imagined by Nathan Harris. Also, describing the twists and turns of the growth of George and Isabelle and the dignity of Prentiss and Landry would spoil the reader’s experience. You may never look at your socks in the same way.
Author Toni Morrison wrote, “As writers what we do is remember. And to remember the world is to create it.” What a world Nathan Harris has created!
The Sweetness of Water
by Nathan Harris; Little, Brown and Company, 2021
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