Salvation by Avery Caswell
“What a riveting and deeply moving story Avery Caswell has given us. Based on the harrowing true story of two young girls who were abducted by a traveling preacher in the early 1970s, this is a novel about delusion and determination, faith and grit, good and evil. Meticulously researched and masterfully written . . . There is great love in this story, and profound generosity. Most importantly, the beauty of Caswell’s prose, her compassion for all of her characters, and her recognition of their complexity, elevates this account into a universal story of human frailty and courage. Each of these characters—nine-year-old Willie June, with her imaginary diary; seven-year-old Glory with her hunger; their misguided, hard-working mother and her alcoholic employer; the hapless P.I. who keeps missing his target; even the terrifying preacher, Mother Franklin, and her lost-soul driver—is complicated and deeply human. This is a stunning debut by an important talent.”
—Abigail DeWitt, author of News of Our Loved Ones
“Deep respect and gratitude should be extended to Earthell Latta who mindfully decided to untether the festering shame, pain, scars, and cleanse the wound that was whispering to be opened. In the spirit of generosity, celebration, healing, and redemption, Avery Caswell, chosen spiritual creative midwife triumphantly and expertly guides Salvation forward.”
—Jaki Shelton Green, North Carolina Poet Laureate
“‘No one ever talks about what happened,’ Glory Munro says of the events that shaped this remarkable narrative based on the 1971 kidnapping of two Charlotte, North Carolina sisters by a well-known evangelist named Mother Franklin. Salvation not only talks about those events, but examines them via the lenses of memory, race, poverty, the shape-shifting powers of faith and, most importantly, longings of the human psyche. Avery Caswell’s Salvation and its characters are so achingly rendered I knew them, sat with them, listened to them tell their stories for themselves.”
—Karen Salyer McElmurray, author of Wanting Radiance
AN EVOCATIVE DEBUT NOVEL EXPLORES THE NEED TO BELIEVE AND THE FALSE PROPHETS WHO EXPLOIT THE VULNERABLE— “Ain’t no sin in money!” Reverend Ike’s velvety voice proclaimed over the radio. “I like money. I need money. I want money … Say it with me now. You gotta BEE-lieve!” Even as she struggles to put food on the table, Del Munro, a single mother with four young children, sends a dollar every month to the reverend’s Blessing Plan. It’s the summer of 1971 and Del believes her fortunes are about to change. When Mother Franklin, a traveling evangelist, comes to town, Del welcomes her into her home. “This is the beginning, she feels it, when blessings will start falling down on her like summer rain, soft at first and then a deluge.”
When school is delayed because of court-mandated busing, the evangelist offers to take Del’s girls, seven-year-old Glory and nine-year-old Willie June, home with her to Savannah for two weeks at the beach.
But what seemed like a blessing soon turns into a nightmare when the girls are pressed into service by Mother Franklin who promises power and glory to the unsuspecting while relying on the book of Ezekiel to propel her ministry. Along with her driver Luther, a man with questionable connections and a Saturday Night Special, they travel from one church to another along the backroads of Georgia and Florida.
After months of separation from a mother they find increasingly difficult to remember, Glory and Willie June struggle, starving for food, shelter, and deliverance.
Written with sensitivity and courage, Salvation is based on a true story told to Avery Caswell by a woman who needed to make sense of what happened to her and her sister fifty years ago. Powerful and unforgettable, the book explores how mistakes made by desperate people willing to put their trust in false saviors can lead to tragic consequences.
Avery Caswell is an award-winning writer, designer and essayist. Her previous work includes Mother Load, a collection of short stories Kirkus Reviews called “stunning,” and Luck: A Collection of Facts, Fiction, Incantations & Verse, which Lee Smith said was “a feast for the eyes, the intellect, and the imagination.” She studied at Kent State, Purdue University, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, receiving MFAs in theatre and creative writing. Salvation is her first novel.