I was halfway through this audiobook before I abruptly realized something: this is the parable of the Prodigal Son. At least in this case, that completely changes the Amazon rating system.
Blackstock is a superb writer, but frankly, if this is just a straight-up story of two orphan girls reclaiming the family fortune, it would get 3½ stars. The drama’s good, the dialogue’s all right, the settings are vintage small-town Mississippi. But every conceivable trailer-trash metaphor is thrown into the soup here: the selfish bumpkin grandparents who blow the kids’ inheritance in all-night-every-night binges in a local casino. Both girls drop out of high school at 15 (is that even legal?) and get jobs hustling tips at a truck stop diner. They sneak out to meet boys at the county fair; Kara gets pregnant and has a painful abortion. Kara’s smooth-talking boyfriend is out on parole for manslaughter. So no, this is not a subtle tale of woe.
But as a modern-day retelling of Luke 15’s runaway child, what Blackstock offers us, either deliberately or accidentally, is utterly brilliant. Jesus’ parable, after all, is actually not about the lost wayward child, but the overflowing “prodigal” love of the anxious parent. In this tale, stepmom Amanda Holbrook is that mother. She has an estate worth billions; she has title to a mansion and wealth and comfort and corporate influence. And one more thing: she holds in her heart a loving blueprint of what she wants to bequeath to her treasured but long-lost stepdaughters.
So all through the second half as the drama builds, no, she will not simply settle out of court and give Kara and Lizzie $50 million each. Because fancy clothes and booze and casino chips are not part of the Paradise life she wants to share with them. She wants to be both their mom and their mentor, their faithful guide. Her love for them includes the entirety of a new life away from the seedy selfishness and ruin of the trailer park.
The early story is tinged by what often affects Christian fiction: a twinkly, faux cheerfulness where good-looking Christian men meet pretty girls and there’s a whole lot of winking and chuckling and aren’t-all-God’s-people-just-adorable saccharine. But Blackstock makes up for it with superb writing as Kara is inexorably drawn away from 13 bitter years of teen delusion, e.g. “Amanda’s nothing but a lying thief who stole our fortune.” A beautiful retelling of Jesus’ most stirring parable.
By the way, actress Kirsten Potter performs this audiobook, and does a superb job. She and Tonya Foster Yancey are two of my favorite narrators, and this is an excellent effort.