New work of Southern fiction demands to be read slowly, savored

By Leslie Criss/NEMS Daily Journal

I’d planned to write a review in this space about a new novel titled “The Healing.” It’s written by Jonathan Odell, a native of Laurel, Miss., who now lives in Minnesota.
My friend Emily Gatlin at Reed’s Gum Tree Bookstore told me about the book back in January. She said the book was to be released in late February and that it was a wonderful read.
She made a call and within a few days, I received an Advanced Reading Copy of the book.
So, I’ve been reading “The Healing” slowly. Not because it’s difficult to read. Not because I can’t get into it.
I’m taking my time because it is an exceptional book written exceptionally well. I don’t want to hurry because I want it to last.
Because I’m only midway through, I can’t tell you I sobbed when “The Healing” ended or where it falls on my Top 10 books list. But there are some things I can tell you.
Odell’s story centers on a near-forgotten group of women in the years before the Civil War – midwives, the most powerful slaves on any plantation. It’s the story of Polly Shine, a character destined for an important place in Southern literary history.
Here are some things I can tell you about this new novel that I hope will make you want to buy a copy and read it – slowly.
A second printing of “The Healing” was ordered before the Feb. 21 release date due to so much positive pre-release talk.
The book’s praises have been proclaimed by many. Here are two:
“Jonathan Odell has written a terrific novel that will take its place in the distinguished pantheon of Southern fiction. Like that showstopping work by Kathryn Stockett, “The Healing” is another Mississippi-born work of art and Odell’s Polly Shine is a character for the ages.” – Pat Conroy, author of “The Prince of Tides”
“Jonathan Odell won me over with his fresh take on an 1860’s Mississippi plantation, and the connective power of story to heal body, mind and community. Long after closing the novel’s final pages, I’m still marveling about Polly Shine, an inventively subversive slave healer, and a character I won’t soon forget.” – Lalita Tademy, author of “Cane River”
Odell received good reviews for his 2004 debut novel, “The View from Delphi.” It was during the research for and writing of this first book that the seed was sown for what would become “The Healing.”
Since reading the first page or two of “The Healing,” I’ve been hooked, thinking about the characters and their stories until I can find the quiet time to get back to them.
I am a huge fan of Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help.” It is a very good novel that was translated well into film. But at the risk of committing some sort of sacrilege, I’m going to tell you I believe Odell’s writing style is stronger, deeper than Stockett’s.
And if “The Healing” does not become as revered as “The Help,” I’ll be very surprised. And deeply disappointed.
leslie.criss@journalinc.com