“Salvation,” An Evocative Debut Novel by Local Writer
An evocative debut novel explores the need to believe and the false prophets who exploit the vulnerable
“Based on the harrowing true story of two young girls abducted by a traveling preacher in 1971, this is a novel about delusion and determination, faith and grit, good and evil. Meticulously researched and masterfully written. A stunning debut by an important talent.”
– Abigail DeWitt, author of “News of Our Loved Ones”
“With gentle humor and a profound appreciation for the marginalized lives of her characters, Avery Caswell illuminates the America that’s alongside us, and which many of us rarely acknowledge.” – Arthur J. Magida, author of Code Name Madeleine
“Deep respect and gratitude to Earthell Latta who mindfully decided to untether the festering shame, pain, scars, and cleanse the wound that was whispering to be opened. In the spirit of generosity, celebration, healing, and redemption, Avery Caswell, chosen spiritual creative midwife triumphantly and expertly guides Salvation forward.”
– Jaki Shelton Green, North Carolina Poet Laureate
“Ain’t no sin in money!” Reverend Ike’s velvety voice proclaimed over the radio. “I like money. I need money. I want money … Say it with me now. You gotta BEE-lieve!”
Even as she struggles to put food on the table, Del Munro, a single mother with four young children, sends a dollar every month to the reverend’s Blessing Plan. It’s the summer of 1971 and Del has to believe her fortunes are about to change. She works hard, takes care of her children and goes to church most Sundays. Why shouldn’t life be easier? Why shouldn’t she be able to have more food in her pantry, buy a new dress and start saving money, like her neighbor Bobette, so her kids can go to college?
When Del learns that Mother Franklin, a traveling evangelist, is coming to town, she welcomes her into her home to benefit from the heaps of food the church ladies always deliver. “This is the beginning, she feels it, when blessings will start falling down on her like summer rain, soft at first and then a deluge.”
Blessings are what Mother Franklin, whose ambitions are as outsized as her enormous girth, trades in. Inspired by Sweet Daddy Grace, the Messiah-like preacher who baptized her many years ago and was worth $25 million at his death, she believes she’s destined for greatness.
Mother Franklin can see that Del is exhausted, trying to make ends meet and quiet her daughters’ constant bickering while caring for her baby sons. When school is delayed because of court-mandated busing, the preacher offers to take Del’s girls, seven-year-old Glory and nine-year-old Willie June, home with her to Savannah for two weeks at the beach.
For the girls, restless at the end of a long hot summer in Charlotte, it’s a dream come true. To Del, it’s a much-needed reprieve.
But what seemed like a blessing soon turns into a nightmare when the girls are pressed into service by Mother Franklin who promises power and glory to the unsuspecting while relying on the book of Ezekiel to propel her ministry. Along with her driver Luther, a man with questionable connections and a Saturday Night Special hidden in a wig box, they travel from one church to another along the backroads of Georgia and Florida.
After months of separation from a mother they find increasingly difficult to remember, Glory and Willie June pray to forget each day’s horrific struggle as they starve—for food, shelter, and deliverance. Meanwhile Del, cagey about whether or not she accepted money from Mother Franklin, contacts the police and FBI who offer no help. People begin to wonder if instead of sending her daughters on vacation, she sold them to the evangelist.
Written with sensitivity and courage, Salvation is based on a true story told to Avery Caswell by a woman who needed to make sense of what happened to her and her sister fifty years ago. Powerful and unforgettable, the book explores how mistakes made by desperate people willing to put their trust in false saviors can lead to tragic consequences.
This short video, with Jaki Shelton Green and Abigail Dewitt, along with the author and Latta, provides a window into a truly amazing and compelling story.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Avery Caswell is an award-winning writer, designer and essayist. Her previous work includes Mother Load, a collection of short stories Kirkus Reviews called “stunning” and Luck: A Collection of Facts, Fiction, Incantations & Verse, which Lee Smith said was “a feast for the eyes, the intellect, and the imagination.” A graduate of Kent State, Purdue University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Caswell received MFAs in theatre and creative writing. Salvation is her first novel.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Title: SALVATION by Avery Caswell
Publisher: TouchPoint Press
On Sale: September 15, 2021
Format: Trade Paperback / 280 pages
ISBNS: 1952816556 / 978-1952816550