No One Is Coming To Save Us

1 of 18
No One Is Coming To Save Us
384 pages; Ecoo
The first thing you notice about No One Is Coming to Save Us , Stephanie Powell Watts's debut novel, is the audacity of its conceit: a Great Gatsby update set in the South with African American protagonists. But Watts's homage is merely the framework for a very modern theme; a once-thriving town ravaged by the flight of industry.

The residents of mostly black Pinewood, North Carolina, crave what they can't have. Matriarch Sylvia yearns to feel she still matters in the world; her daughter Ava is desperate to conceive a child, even in a deeply troubled marriage. (Ava's live chats on reveal Watts to be an incisive satirist.) But it’s JJ, the poor boy who left home and returned a rich man, who seeks the most impossible thing of all: to controvert time and finally claim the woman who has chosen another over him. "You're going to redo the past, are you? You went away from here and lost your mind," Sylvia admonishes JJ, seeing that he loves Ava truly but not wisely, desiring her as a critical prop without which he cannot be the star in his own adventure.

Despite all her characters flaws, Watts never trips into judgment, resisting the temptation to sharpen her knives at the expense of her story: she doesn't get in the way. Her great gift is her instinct for empathy, her inclination to treat wronged lovers, barren women, lonely mothers, and damaged men with uncommon gentleness. Witness how she eschews cliched fireworks in favor of understanding when Ava doesn't quite confront her husband's mistress: The woman in front of her was not a trashy woman. Trash would look defiantly at her, look smug or smirk at her. Trash would goad her, hint at what she'd taken from her, at all she'd won. This woman was not trash. And so No One Is Coming to Save Us proves to be not just a pleasure on its own terms, but also a compassionate and well-timed social commentary, wherein people like us endeavor, falter, and finally endure.
— Dotun Akintoye