In a remote corner of the Blue Ridge Mountains over the course of Thanksgiving week, 1989, three scrappy, mixed-race families change each other’s lives with their kitchen table ingenuity as they look after their loved (and hated) ones at a hospice called Solace.
It’s an unusually warm week in a pocket of the Appalachian Mountains known as the Blue Ridge and Thanksgiving is on the way. Folks from a backwoods community called the Pineys—family members and professional caretakers—find themselves heading for a hospice called Solace because someone close to them is sick. Real sick. Dying sick.
We’re right there with them, swept through an intense six days, shepherded by Pam Crowe, a shop owner and authoritative gossip. Diverse stories become one as the town gathers to beat back death or—in some cases—hurry him on about his business. In the main, we follow:
• August Early, a retired, hen-pecked, two-bit trucker, trying to help an ailing wife who doesn’t want help. Meanwhile he’s got two granddaughters to raise. He struggles to do things his way—until a girl leaves a magic rabbit pelt on his wife’s sickbed.
• Maggie Dulé (born Margaret Dull, she changed her name) who’s fled the Pineys for Palo Alto to reinvent herself as an aerobicized party-planner. Now she’s called back to deal with her ailing, decidedly cussed mother. With no love for either family or her hometown, she’s looking for ways out—until she runs into an old boyfriend and the hospice nurse who happens to be his wife.
• Cadence Greevey, the girl with the magic rabbit pelt, who’s described by her elders as “simple,” a child in a teenager’s body. She almost slips through the cracks caring single-handedly for her ailing mama until her plight comes to light and the community argues over where she might end up.
Rushing to help people in peril imperils these characters from the get-go: Maggie’s plane almost goes down—twice. Cadence’s dad winds up in the hospital after totaling his car. August Early has to learn to ride in an elevator for the first time in his life—a terrifying prospect.
All the while, healers and hinderers practice their arts. Gods of all sorts are in the details. A nurse creates pageants to ward off devils. A family of Jews-for-Jesus plague their orthodox grandmother. AIDS workers in bio-hazard suits are mistaken for spacemen. Angels are summoned, Ghost Dogs dispatched. At the eleventh hour, a Thanksgiving dinner is fashioned out of some bottom-of-the-jar peanut butter, a handful of Uncle Ben’s rice and the last of the canned peas.
Science meets folk wisdom. The Bible meets superstition. Black professionals come to the aid of white families. Foreign-born doctors minister to American-born patients. Gay couples cope with straight couples. People make mistakes. People make amends. Scared folks find courage. Enemies find allies. Narcissists find neighbors.
In the end, Mr. Early comes home to raise his grandbabies alone. Maggie Dulé considers whether she might spend a little more time in a town she once hated. And, while her fate is debated, Cadence sits curbside for the Pineys’ tiny Thanksgiving parade, waving at a procession of jerry-rigged floats, prized livestock and costumed pilgrims until it’s time to return to Solace where the cook, Miss Cherille, has made sure that there’s a plate of turkey and all the fixings for any who might need, on this particular Thanksgiving, the comfort of a home-cooked meal.