Hieroglyphics by Jill McCorkle is a beautifully told story that intertwines the narratives of four characters: Lil and Frank, an elderly married couple; and Shelley, a young and recently abandoned single mom, and her quirky son. They are linked by a house that was once Frank’s childhood home and is now home to Shelley and her son. Its Frank obsession with nostalgia that drives his desire to return to the North Carolina town where he grew up—more specifically, that house. Or at least, that’s what McCorkle wants us to believe.
The idea of revisiting meaningful places from one’s childhood struck a chord with me immediately. I’d give anything to go back to my late grandmother’s house in Chattanooga, Tenn. I can still picture each room perfectly—and in my mind, it’s the same today as it was in the ’80s.
After establishing the house as what links the main characters, the story travels back and forth through decades, ping-ponging between pivotal events in each of their lives, while slowly unearthing experiences of profound loss, stunning betrayal, family dysfunction, discovery, redemption, love and acceptance. If it sounds like it could be confusing or difficult to follow, it isn’t, as the author moves between narratives seamlessly. Admittedly, I found myself more invested in one character’s story over another’s and wanting to stay with their storyline a bit longer, but in the end, the balance works in a way that only a masterful writer, like McCorkle, could pull off.
One of the main takeaways I got from this wonderful book is something I think is super relevant right now: Every single person is dealing with things you have no idea about. Think about the old man sitting next to you at the doctor’s office, the elderly woman in the car behind you at a stop light, the young mom listlessly dropping items in her grocery cart, the boy you passed on the on the sidewalk using a towel as a Superman cape. Just like you, every one of them has a story, a turning point, a weight they carry on their shoulders, a life incident that shapes who they are and the paths they ultimately take in life.
THE FINAL WORD: I loved going into the “cave” with McCorkle and seeing how she “translates” the characters for us lucky readers. Her unique literary light shines on every page, making Hieroglyphics a book I’d highly recommend.