In the spirit of supporting Mississippi writers and Mississippi independent bookstores, we’re doing both this week by shining the spotlight on Flying Shoes by Lisa Howorth, co-owner of Square Books in Oxford. It’s her first novel and is receiving high praise from reviewers across the country. Although not a native Mississippian, Howorth moved to Oxford in the early 1970s because of her devotion to William Faulkner. She met Richard Howorth and the two were married, reared three children, and in 1979 opened Square Books.
Howorth’s book is a work of fiction, but the murder is based on the still-unsolved case of her step brother who was nine years old when he was murdered. It was a front page story in the Washington Post. Howorth was born and reared in the Washington area where her family had lived for generations.
In the book, Mary Byrd Thornton could understand how a reporter couldn’t resist the story: a nine-year-old boy sexually molested and killed on Mother’s Day, 1966. A suspect to whom nothing would stick. A neighborhood riddled with secrets. No one, especially the bungling or complicit authorities, had been able to solve the crime. Now, thirty years later, the reporter’s call will reel a reluctant Mary Byrd from Mississippi back to Virginia where she must confront her family — and, once again, the murder’s irremovable stain of tragedy.
Yet the book is not a crime novel. It’s an honest and luminous story of a particular time and place in the South, where even calamitous weather can be a character, everyone has a story, and all are inextricably entwined. With a flamboyant cast, splendid dark humor, a potent sense of history, and a shocking true story at its heart, Flying Shoes is a rich and candid novel from a fresh new voice about family and memory and one woman’s flight from a wounded past.
Bobbie Ann Mason, author of In Country and The Girl in the Blue Beret, says of Flying Shoes, “Lisa Howorth’s dazzling verbal wit almost stops you in your tracks while you are flying along in this delicious prose. It is a scream — also heartbreaking, saucy, sassy, poignant, and triumphant. Mary Byrd is a bold, kooky, quirky character I won’t forget. It has been a long time since I read a novel with such charm, generosity, humor, daring, and brilliance. It is just splendid.”
An Associated Press reviewer says, “Howorth writes with real flair . . . A memorable mosaic of a place, a time and a good-hearted woman at midlife, facing crises old and new.”