Hailed as "the most gifted American novelist of his generation" (Boston Globe), David Payne introduces us to Ransom Hill, a big-hearted, wild-man lead singer of a legendary indie rock group, who has come to South Carolina determined to save his marriage, his family, and himself. But back at Wando Passo, his wife's inherited family estate, things don't proceed according to plan. There's another man in the picture, and Ran's discovery of a mysterious relic from slave times transports him—and the reader—back into the story of another romantic triangle at Wando Passo that erupted violently at the height of the Civil War. Will the present repeat the past?
Filled with fast-paced adventure, lyrical writing, wicked humor, and unforgettable characters, David Payne's Back to Wando Passo propels the two love stories, linked by place through time, to a simultaneous crescendo of betrayal, revenge, and redemption.
Payne's richly ornate Southern saga (after Gravesend Light) follows Ransom Hill, a current New York cabbie and former '80s songwriter-in-demand, back South. Ran is rejoining his estranged wife, Claire DeLay, and their two small children at Wando Passo, the South Carolina rice plantation Claire has inherited. Originally a poor boy from North Carolina, Ran truly loves his Charleston-born, flaky musician wife of 19 years. But the past dogs Ran: Claire, a former concert pianist, finds work teaching music at a local college and reconnects with her childhood friend Marcel Jones, a black musician and sour ex-member of Ran's band. At Wando Passo, he excavates an old pot containing ceremonial objects, and, later, two corpses are unearthed perhaps solving the mysterious disappearance of the Civil War master of the house, Harlan DeLay, and his Charleston wife, Addie, who soon get alternating diary entry like chapters. Addie reveals her illicit romance with Harlan's black half-brother, Jarry, the son of a Cuban buja; their biracial love resonates with Claire's attraction to Marcel, while Ran's loopy purpose seems to be to release the ancestral curse so that the whole family can function again. Despite a rather too-tidy plot, Payne fashions elaborate prose and touching characterization into an absorbing tale.