“Hieroglyphics is a novel that tugs at the deepest places of the human soul—a beautiful, heart-piercing meditation on life and death and the marks we leave on this world. It is the work of a wonderful writer at her finest and most profound.”
—Jessica Shattuck, author of The Women in the Castle
A mesmerizing novel about the burden of secrets carried across generations.
Lil and Frank married young, launched into courtship when they bonded over how they both—suddenly, tragically— lost a parent when they were children. Over time, their marriage grew and strengthened, with each still wishing for so much more understanding of the parents they’d lost prematurely.
Now, after many years in Boston, they’ve retired to North Carolina. There, Lil, determined to leave a history for their children, sifts through letters and notes and diary entries—perhaps revealing more secrets than Frank wants their children to know. Meanwhile, Frank has become obsessed with what might have been left behind at the house he lived in as a boy on the outskirts of town, where a young single mother, Shelley, is just trying to raise her son with some sense of normalcy. Frank’s repeated visits to Shelley’s house begin to trigger memories of her own family, memories that she’d hoped to keep buried. Because, after all, not all parents are ones you wish to remember.
Hieroglyphics reveals the difficulty of ever really knowing the intentions and dreams and secrets of the people who raised you. In her deeply layered and masterful novel, Jill McCorkle deconstructs and reconstructs what it means to be a father or a mother, and what it means to be a child piecing together the world around us, a child learning to make sense of the hieroglyphics of history and memory.
The engrossing latest from McCorkle (Life After Life) meditates on the physical and emotional imprints that make up a life. Octogenarian couple Frank and Lil retire to Southern Pines, N. C., from the Boston area to be closer to their adult daughter, Becca, and for Frank, a retired professor who has been drifting with no sense of purpose, to explore his past. Frank had lived there during his youth, after a 1943 train accident injured his mother and killed his father. Lil spends her time sorting through and composing journal entries to leave for her children, and through Lil's voice, McCorkle finds an elegant mix of wistfulness and appreciation for life ("The premature blue dusk of a winter afternoon... the kind of light that makes you feel immortal"). Meanwhile, Frank walks the train tracks near the accident site and frequently drops by his former home. The house is now occupied by Shelley, a single mother who lives with her young son, Harvey, and guards herself against outsiders. Early on, McCorkle makes clear that Shelley is hiding secrets in the house, and as Frank persists in his desire to tour the house, Shelly's family's betrayals and falsehoods bubble to the surface. Throughout, McCorkle weaves a powerful narrative web, with empathy for her characters and keen insight on their motivations. This is a gem.