Nel Rand’s debut novel is a picaresque tale that takes the reader down the Mississippi River and through the haunted past of its main character, Ellie. Ellie is recovering from divorce when her estranged father, Tiny Moon, a 300-pound gambler and eating contest champion re-enters her life. Despite her efforts to remember her deep-seated anger for Tiny, Ellie finds herself drinking wine with him and relaxing for the first time in months. When he asks her to join him on a trip down the Mississippi River, she readily accepts. But she soon discovers that this is no vacation: Tiny is running from a depraved sheriff with a penchant for murder. What begins as a trip to reconnect with her father on a rollicking ride down the Mississippi Flyway, ends up as a journey through suppressed memories that hold the key to her future happiness.
Rand’s characters fly off the page and though Ellie and Tiny are the primary focus, some of her ancillary characters – especially Tiny’s friends, the gamblers, madames, and moonshiners they meet along the way – are expertly drawn. Rand creates a believable world, taking time to develop atmosphere and complicated characters. The descriptions of the natural world, particularly depictions of the birds on the Flyway, are stunning. The novel’s twin storylines – Ellie’s journey through her past to discover elements of her childhood long forgotten and Tiny and Ellie’s escape from the law – intertwine in fascinating ways. The two together provide the novel with a complex narrative that will engage a variety of readers.
The novel is partially told in flashback, with memories of Ellie's childhood inserting themselves into her journey with Tiny. The flashbacks provide nice context and necessary information about Ellie's family, but the decision to reveal a key plot point early in the novel about Ellie's relationship with Tiny undercuts the reading experience. Ellie’s story is built around a hidden secret in her relationship with her father, and the novel would have benefited from a later disclosure. Still, this is a powerful tale of redemption and forgiveness, one that is as satisfying as it is thought provoking.