The Prudent Mariner

A Novel

  • Author(s): Williams, Leslie Walker
  • Series: Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel
  • Imprint: Univ Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2008-12-25
  • Status: Active
  • Available in Paper: Price $19.95 | Buy Now

“The land, the heat, the South’s societal complexities (and perplexities) are all here.  Utterly involving, wise and perceptive, this is a novel to remember.  If you liked To Kill a Mockingbird, you will love The Prudent Mariner.”-Kelly Cherry, judge of the Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel

In 1913, a young white girl in coastal Georgia fabricates a romance between her elder sister and an African American laborer, inadvertently leading to the man’s lynching. A crowd gathers and a photographer records the event on picture postcards.  In one of these, the young girl stands smiling beside the hung man.

More than fifty years later, nine-year-old Riddley Cross discovers these postcards amid her late grandfather’s belongings.  As she tries to make sense of why the postcards are in her family’s possession, and why the photographed girl seems so familiar, Riddley becomes haunted by apparitions and dreams of lynchings.  The postcards force her to question what she has been taught about the world, the South, and her family-and what she has not.

The mysteries of the lynching postcards start to unravel after her widowed grandmother, Adele, moves in with the family.  Afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, Adele speaks only to murmur the occasional insult or curse.  Nonetheless, she and Riddley become companions of a sort, based largely on their common affinity for silence, wandering, and the nearby river. When Riddley develops a friendship with her neighbor Carver, an artist and iconoclast, the connections between the postcards and Riddley’s family gradually come to light, and a series of tragic events begins to unfold.  In The Prudent Mariner, Williams offers a searing exploration of the legacies of complicity and violence, silence and regret, and the unforeseeable ways the past shapes and impinges upon the present.

Leslie Walker Williams was born and raised in Savannah, Georgia, and currently lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her short stories have appeared in The Iowa Review, The Madison Review, Harvard Review, and American Fiction.  The Prudent Mariner, her first novel, was awarded the Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel, and the Morris Hackney Literary Award for the Novel.