After years working in the film industry, author T. Daniel Wright put his career on hold, moved from Los Angeles to Kansas City, and completed his debut novel, Lost Cain, which is getting rave reviews.
Patrick Thomas from the prestigious press, Milkweed, said: “Wright’s conjuring of such a massive point of turning in American culture felt both classic and at the same time, entirely original.”
As I slowly digested Wright’s unique portrayal of a small, fading Delta town, I found myself in agreement with Thomas. Like many fine Southern books, Lost Cain has a cadence to the language and an edge to the characters that readers will find familiar and comfortable. After all, Linda Bloodworth Thomason, the creator of the iconic Designing Women, provides the foreword.
“Filled with vivid characters, tender storytelling and an eye for the humor in life’s darkest moments, Lost Cain is funny and fearless – Southern through and through.”
And yes, Lost Cain is all those things. But by telling the story in alternating first person Wright also managed to pull this reader into the minds of his characters in a way that was unusual and particularly rewarding. I found myself inhabiting so many different worlds within this small town: a frightened girl facing motherhood, an uptight matriarch longing for lost love, a fanatical preacher hellbent on Jesus, a sensitive kid struggling to fit in and a young rebel fighting to get out. Each story slowly unfolding along with the history of the town until one summer day in 1979 when they all intersect in a climatic sequence of events that literally kept me up at night, turning page after page.
With Wright’s background in film, (his movies have starred Faye Dunaway, Chris Pine, Tom Skerritt and Ian Somerhalder) it’s easy to see Lost Cain making that eventual transition. The narration moves smoothly from character to character, like a camera, focusing on one perspective, then another. The final climatic scene screams for the big screen.
Beyond the mechanics of a finely crafted book, Lost Cain provides an illustration of so many social issues facing our country. By setting the book in the turbulent 1970s and pointing a microscope at the political brand of Christianity that took root in the early 1980s, Wright has illuminated the “Culture Wars” in a way that is personal, poignant and impossible to ignore. All the hot button issues of the last few decades are here, yet they’re explored with such a gentle bluntness that even the most inflammatory events feel natural, justified and believable.
Told through characters that embody “traditional” America in a town that exemplifies “conservative” values, Lost Cain is uniquely “queer” in that it turns those ideas on their heads. Any LGBT person who has grown up in a conservative atmosphere will particularly identify with the story of Cain, Macy and Mark as they forge a friendship that heals wounds, pushes boundaries and offers hope where there was none.
Colin Dickerwood of Penguin Press says:
“So much of this is unforgettable – I deeply admire Wright’s courage here as he tackles such a difficult subject with grace.”
Once again, I agree. Unforgettable. With echoes of To Kill A Mockingbird, Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias – the characters of Lost Cain will keep you company for a very long time. A read well worth your time.
Daniel Wright will be reading and signing Lost Cain at 7 p.m. Thursday, September 24 at Left Bank Books. V
Written by Chris Andoe