Laird Hunt has a knack for inhabiting the voices of women, with plots set in motion by historical events ... As Calla and Ottie Lee embark on their respective missions, their paths intersect in unexpected ways. Hunt keeps the lynching offstage. His gaze remains steady on his troubled narrators, caught in moments of crisis — spilling secrets, facing difficult choices. With their communities riven by ugly banter, hatred and ignorance, it’s unclear whether these women will emerge broken or resilient, and at what cost.
Reading this, I couldn’t help thinking of the James Baldwin quote: 'If Americans were not so terrified of their private selves, they would never have needed to invent . . . "the Negro problem." ' In Ottie Lee, Hunt has created a sly comment on the narrative of lynching in American history ... Ottie Lee is an uncomfortable exploration of the bystander: the kind of young woman so often seen in those horrific lynching postcards, turning to the camera and grinning. Through her we see the interior life of a person who could pose like that and the type of environment that could produce that picture ... In [certain] moments, it seems possible that Hunt intended to write a sort of reconciliation fantasy. But fantasy not grounded in actual social dynamics and the facts of life is merely escape...Rather than subverting standard racial narratives, scenes like this lead to incredulity and the sense that the characters are little more than game pieces ... These missteps are regrettable. In exploring the mind-set and complicity of the bystander and the connection between white women and black women in a racist, patriarchal culture, Hunt has addressed some especially timely issues.
Almost defying a genre, Hunt’s story is an enticing mix of mystery, historical fiction and fantasy, all wrapped up in a writing style that immerses you in another time. The road in evening is transformed into Some Other Place, where hope and goodness collide with hate and fear ... The book is at once disturbing, highly imaginative and evocative, a tale that is likely to occupy your thoughts well after you close the cover.