No One Is Coming To Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

Sometimes you read a book that quietly sneaks up on you, becoming more engrossing and more moving as you turn the pages.  I wasn’t initially sure about Stephanie Powell Watts’s No One Is Coming To Save Us, but I came to really enjoy being in the company of these flawed, authentic characters.  This is a novel filled with people who are stuck and people who are yearning, and I became totally invested in their lives.  The book jacket and pre-publication buzz may have led you to believe that this is a contemporary African American version of The Great Gatsby, but I took this novel for what it was:  a compelling family saga set in an economically depressed North Carolina town.

51u0JxuMEWL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Pinewood has seen better days – the furniture factories are almost all shuttered and even the town’s beloved greasy diner that’s been there since the 1950’s is about to close for good.  JJ (now Jay) Ferguson, former foster child,  has come back to Pinewood with money, and has built a showcase home on the hill high above town.  It’s obvious to anyone who knows him that he’s returned to win the heart of his high-school love, Ava.  Ava, meanwhile, has a good job at the bank but a sham of a marriage, and has been desperately trying to conceive a child unsuccessfully for years.  Her mother, Sylvia, is the heart of the novel.  She’s contemplating aging, secretly conversing regularly with a young convict named Marcus, and has never moved through the grief of losing her son, Devon, years ago in an accident.

Stephanie Powell Watts

Watts knows how to write realistic dialogue and knows how to portray flawed characters sympathetically.  She’s a beautiful writer, mixing contemporary feeling conversations with astute observations about life.

Some passages I liked:

“These days when she got a glimpse of a beautiful man, she sized him up like a jeweler. Good cut, good sparkle, nice setting, but not something she herself could afford.”

“She wanted to tell Lana that for years she’d heard whispers that sounded like her son.  She almost confessed that when she found herself alone she spoke into the air until it vibrated with her voice and waited for her son’s voice to echo back.  She wanted to say that in waiting for her son she had almost surely failed her daughter who clearly need her, who probably knew better than to ask for her attention.  She wanted to tell Lana everything that would identify her as total-lost like a wrecked car and the county people could certify her gone in the ways that they do and finally, finally she could experience the peace, the calm of the diagnosis.  Everybody has a disease.”

“But soon and in clearer moments she knew she had made her own choice not to lose him or at least not to lose all of her memories of him.  She wanted the past where they lived and struggled and loved each other.  A past that couldn’t and shouldn’t be erased.  The possibility of the past, if it is a good one, or even if it has good moments, is that it can be alive, if you let it.  All of it alive, not just the terror, but the beauty too.  And the young encompassing and smothering love she’d felt for her lovely man – all that alive too. Otherwise all those years, her years, her life had not meant a thing.” 

There are no easy answers for the inhabitants of Pinewood, no outside saviors, no miracle solutions.  There is only going through, straight through the hard stuff of life – aging, infertility, depression, regrets.  And yet I wasn’t weighed down by this book. I continued to reach for it and looked forward to visiting these characters.  Perhaps the only salvation to be found is in the determined survival of Sylvia, Ava, and the rest of the characters.  Stephanie Powell Watts has written a moving story with a glimmer of hope, and I most definitely recommend it for fans of family sagas.



12 thoughts on “No One Is Coming To Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

  1. This line right here: “There is only going through, straight through the hard stuff of life – aging, infertility, depression, regrets. And yet I wasn’t weighed down by this book.” That’s the line which hooked me. There are so few books I’ve read which fall into this category. And often, that’s because I can’t relate to the characters. It sounds like the characters are beautifully fleshed out, however. Are there any characters, in particular, you connected to? Great review, Laila! I will need to seek out this book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My favorite character was Sylvia, the matriarch of the family. She felt so real to me – thinking about aging, her body, invisibility of older women, her shortcomings as a parent… She was the heart of the book for me. I hope you enjoy it if you get a copy of it!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Naomi. It was very moving and felt very real. I didn’t even think about the title until I was trying to write a review. There really *is* no one coming in to save them – they have to figure out a way to save themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. One the reasons I avoid a lot of sagas is that they are so LONG and end up feeling like big weights I have to carry around (literally and emotionally). Also, they go for so many generations that I get to the point where I don’t want to understand where anyone is coming from anymore. Isn’t that just awful of me? If you stop and think how utter crap is passed from person to person in a family, though, it can be terribly overwhelming to experience it AND read it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This sounds like a wonderful read and quite thought provoking. I haven’t yet read The Great Gatsby but I wonder why the comparison was made. Is it something that publishers did? You mentioned a pee-publication buzz. Sometimes these comparisons hurt books more than helping them. Glad you were able to read and think of this one separately from the comparison and hence enjoy it. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Diana! It was a hard one to write because it seemed like “nothing” happened, LOL. I don’t know if the comparison came from the author or just the publishers. I need to try and find an interview with the author to see her perspective.


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