Local author Mandy Mikulencak’s new novel, “Forgiveness Road,” starts off with a bang. Literally. The year is 1976, and the place is Mississippi. It is a sultry summer morning when 16-year-old Cissy Pickering calmly goes and gets her father’s gun from his bureau and shoots him dead as he is leaving for work.
In the space of a heartbeat, this prominent Southern family’s life has been ripped apart and becomes a hot topic of conversation in the community when it is revealed what led Cissy to take the life of her wealthy attorney father. Cissy’s mother, Caroline, is devastated and doesn’t believe her, while her grandmother, Janelle, does.
In light of this huge tragedy, Janelle feels that despite her own health issues, she must step up and do the right thing by Cissy. Thus begins a complex family journey with an ending none of them could have ever imagined.
Mikulencak has an obvious affection for strong, Southern women. “Forgiveness Road” is her second novel that deals with the special situations that the South presents for women, especially in a bygone era. Think front porches, cool lemonade, white gloves and certain rules and expectations by society.
Another aspect of Southern society revealed in this compelling story is the relationships between some white women and their black housekeepers and hired help. While the public in those days might have certain rules and expectations, privately they can be as close as family, sisters even. Mikulencak shares with readers the breath and depth of these relationships, especially between Janelle and Ruth, her childhood friend and housekeeper.
The author also plumbs the rich minefield of the many complex relationships between mothers and daughters and granddaughters. The expectations, the unsaid feelings, secrets shared and hidden that can travel down through generations. Many times, what seems most important to some families is what the outside world can see, and not the reality.
Through Cissy’s time at a mental hospital, Mikulencak sheds a light on the practices imposed on the hapless residents. In this case, what happens is not cruel or mean spirited but merely attempts at efficiency and order. She also uses Cissy’s eccentric habits to illustrate what they really are, coping skills and a way for some patients to deal with devastating trauma.
It is obvious that Mikulencak has done extensive research regarding these themes running through the pages of “Forgiveness Road.” She has crafted a compelling, heart-wrenching story that grabs readers and leads them into the middle of Janelle and Cissy’s lives. Mikulencak weaves her tale forward effortlessly with heroic, believable characters and a setting and time that is a fascinating experience. This is an author who will keep readers waiting impatiently for her next narrative outing.
Leslie Doran is a freelance writer and a retired teacher.