Saturday, September 19, 2020

Hieroglyphics - Jill McCorkle

   “I think that those who forget being children have likely lost their souls; it’s just that simple.” 

If this quote from page 261 of Jill McCorkle’s Hieroglyphics is true, the four main characters of her new novel remain firmly attached to their souls. One of the four, Harvey, actually still is a child, and Shelley, Frank, and Lil seem to live almost as much in the past as they do in the present. 

Frank and Lil, after spending most of their adult lives in Boston, have retired to North Carolina where Frank has become preoccupied with getting inside his boyhood home for one final look at the place he so vividly remembers. He particularly wonders whether the old Mason jar full of boyhood trinkets he left behind all those years ago might still be hidden away where he saw it last. Lil, his wife, has equally vivid childhood memories of her own, especially the ones so eerily similar to her husband’s. Shelley, whose own childhood was more troubled than she wants to admit even to herself, and her son Harvey are renting Frank’s old family home – and Shelley has no intention of letting Frank inside the rundown old place for a last look. 

Hieroglyphics is not the kind of book that hits the ground running and maintains a quick pace for the next 300 pages. That kind of book is easy for the reader to get into. Instead, McCorkle sets her hook here in a very gradual manner by building the depth of her main characters layer by layer until the reader learns to see them as the real flesh and bone people they are. By the end of Hieroglyphics, it is obvious that all four have something in common. Each, even six-year-old Harvey, is emotionally scarred by something that happened to one, or both, of their parents. 

Memories, though, are funny things, especially those held by older people involving their childhood experiences. Frank and Lil have vivid memories of those days, but they do not stop to think that the memories, even hazy as they are becoming, were originally filtered through the eyes of a child. Shelley has a past she so badly wants to keep hidden that she creates an alternate family history for her two sons. And little Harvey becomes the near-perfect reflection of all of his mother’s insecurities and fears. 

Bottom Line: Hieroglyphics is a literary novel for readers who enjoy memorably complex characters who are doing the best they can simply to get from one day to the next. Bit-by-bit, as their inner lives are revealed, it all starts to make sense – and it becomes impossible not to root for each of them to get past what has so emotionally scarred them. This one demands a little patience, but that patience is well-rewarded in the end.

Jill McCorkle

(Review Copy provided by Publisher, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill)


  1. Replies
    1. It took me a while to make all the proper connections between the characters and to keep them straight, but once I did that, I was all-in.

  2. I'm not sure I have the attention span for this one right now, but it does sound good, so I'm writing it down. Maybe someday I'll get back to reading more literary, slower-paced books. :)

    1. I find that this kind of novel keeps my other reading from going stale on me. Sometimes all those mysteries and thrillers can start to run together in my mind and none of them stand out of the crowd for very long. Novels like Hieroglyphics are different enough that I will remember them for years. But I do love my mystery series... :-)