Southern families have a long history of dysfunction in American literature, but the Forge clan of C E Morgan’s epic second novel are a breed apart. Their prosperous Kentucky farm, Forge Run, might appear at first glance to be some sort of bluegrass idyll, but it proves by the end of this massive book to be a muddy barnyard of racism, incest, violence and adultery.
Although there are flashbacks to the time when Kentucky was still wilderness, the action proper begins in the 1950s. The estate’s master, a successful farmer and avid racist called John Henry Forge, finds himself at odds with his eldest son, Henry, over the fate of the homestead. Father wants to continue to grow corn, while the teenage Henry is enamoured of the idea of breeding the sort of horses that run in the Kentucky Derby in nearby Louisville. Family tensions deepen when John Henry’s deaf wife, Lavinia, engages in a dangerous liaison with an African-American employee, an entanglement that leads to the intervention of the local chapter of another powerful southern clan – the KKK.