A stylistically thorny novel about a lynching that encompasses prose-poem, satire, ghost story, and other rhetorical somersaults.
The heart of the sixth novel by experimentalist McIlvoy—author of 57 Octaves Below Middle C (2017, etc.)—is a murder: Lincoln, a Black man, is found hanging from a swing set in the predominantly White burg of Cord, North Carolina, aka Crackertown. Investigators are summoned, locals are questioned, and Lincoln’s mother mourns. But little here follows the arc of a procedural. McIlvoy’s fury at racial violence stoked by “Trumpspawn” is clear: Lincoln is lynched on the day of Trump’s election, for starters, and the bigoted authorities are quick to dismiss the murder as a suicide. But the novel’s approach to the killing is oblique. What to make, for instance, of Mr. Panther, one of the investigators, who becomes a habitué of the town while carrying machetes on his person? Or that he falls for the fiddle-playing daughter of a prominent local who died years before and has been reincarnated as a mockingbird? Call it the triumph of free imagination over ignorance and hate: Acker, a character plainly inspired by the late experimental artist and writer Kathy Acker, is the novel’s guiding spirit of art, inclusion, and freedom. As the novel progresses, more characters become (or are revealed to be) “Presences,” ghosts who serve to remind others of the town’s racist past and present that the locals prefer to keep unspoken. Throughout the story, McIlvoy pivots from lyrical riffs (“the bloodrust airtaste of the doused, excited, heavy rope”), dark-humored passages about Second Amendment hard-liners, and abstruse plotting. It’s a perpetually disorienting book, but McIlvoy’s approach does establish a certain properly righteous mood: In a town thick with injustice, placid prose and straightforward plotting simply won’t do.
An unorthodox but compelling cry against racist violence.
Kevin McIlvoy’s gripping One Kind Favor haunted me long after I turned the last page. Based loosely on a tragic real-life incident, the book explores the consequences of the lynching of a young black man in rural North Carolina. McIlvoy bravely sets forth a suspenseful story that tackles racial violence, police indifference, and the cost of justice in contemporary American South. This is an important novel I look forward to impacting readers far and wide.
—Devi S. Laskar, author of The Atlas of Reds and Blues, winner of the APA Award in Literature
Kevin McIlvoy is a writer of incisive moral vision, and One Kind Favor looks at the brutality of racial injustice in a North Carolina town with a powerful sense of place and clarity and insight.
—Karen E. Bender, author of Refund, finalist for the National Book Award
The shapeshifting beast that is racism haunts small town North Carolina as the living and the dead collide with the past and the present in this novel of boundless surprise, wit, and wisdom.
—T. Geronimo Johnson, author of Welcome to Braggsville
Cord, the spirit-haunted North Carolinan town of One Kind Favor, is down the rabbit hole, through the looking glass, somewhere over the rainbow after the cyclone-lifted house touches down in that other land. It is uncomfortably situated in our “tikilit bloody present.” I describe Cord as “spirit-haunted,” but is any place in America not haunted by ancestral misdeeds? Squint into the mirror McIlvoy provides, but don’t dare look at the grotesqueries and pretend you’re looking into a funhouse mirror. This is what we really look like.
—Rion Amilcar Scott, author of The World Doesn’t Require You
In One Kind Favor, Kevin McIlvoy crafts a novel we haven’t seen before: a rare book about race and place that offers a nuanced take on the world we live in. The concerns are universal, including what it means to witness trauma in our increasingly divided world. The music is uncompromising—you are drawn into the strikingly beautiful, taut, and relentless prose. The novel’s hugeness of heart and fierceness will keep you reading. This book feels vital for our times.
—Nina McConigley, author of Cowboys and East Indians, winner of the PEN Open Book Award