No One Is Coming to Save Us
The title of Stephanie Powell Watts’ debut novel, NO ONE IS COMING TO SAVE US, is actually a lie. Inside this fading North Carolina town, complete with no jobs and the ghosts of factories, lives a family and their web of friends, lovers and lovers’ lovers, men who can only call collect inside the confines of prisons. It’s all of these people who, one way or the other, save one another. Sylvia is the matriarch of the family. She’s an independent woman who stands her ground, but she still slips under the covers with her absentee husband who lives with a woman two decades his junior. This young lady fights for his attention when his age shows in between bursts of passion, when he’s on the couch, weary after a day of life’s hard knocks.
Sylvia longs for her distant son, so she speaks to a young man in prison, his conversation the only new thing in her life. Maybe he makes her feel young again, or maybe he makes her feel something after a whole lot of feeling nothing at all, at least nothing inspiring. In fact, this book is a lot about passivity, and doing the same thing over and over again when it never worked that well in the first place. It’s a lot about recycling the people who have walked around the edges of your life, those who you know so well you’ve practically memorized the lines in their hands.
"If NO ONE IS COMING TO SAVE US proves anything, it’s that outside appearances should be taken with a grain of salt.... A small town may be boring, desolate even, but it contains a family and its web of people who can love each other without really being in love with one another, and that is a unique thing."
In fact, Ava, one of the novel’s protagonists, can’t let go of the two men in her life. One is her husband, Henry, who has a child with another woman. The other is her ex-lover and friend, JJ Ferguson, who is perhaps the most dynamic character in the book. JJ is a man with a dark story, similar to Henry, but he goes out into the world and then comes back with something to offer. He returns with life, when the life has practically been beaten out of Henry. More than building a stunning home at the top of the hill, one that overlooks all the townspeople, almost symbolically, JJ brings with him his undying affections for Ava. His love almost borders on an obsession, but he is likable and patient. His patience was a virtue that brought him back to this town after he finally believed he was prepared to reach his goal.
JJ is perhaps the only character who is going after something with vigor. However, all the characters here show similar themes. JJ wants the same woman who chose another man many years ago. Ava hopes to get pregnant with the same man who in many ways has been choosing another woman over her --- but whether it’s for convenience, pleasure or obligation is not totally clear. In order to view their lives from a different angle, those in this novel step only a little outside their comfort zone, but not much more than a few roads, to find something to make them feel as if they are taking a risk.
At the onset of JJ’s return to town, all eyes are on him, including Sylvia’s. She is so protective of her daughter, Ava, and assured that she will not find happiness in the rearview mirror, that she makes a statement discouraging Ava and JJ from being together. But the house he built is new. It is somewhat envied by the townspeople. Ava’s husband hasn’t shown much love for her lately, anyway. She wants a baby. We want her to be happy. Sylvia’s negativity and her feelings of inadequacy around JJ, as if she wants him to pay more attention to her, make us think she wants him, too. Yet we soon see that love in this book is a twisted game, and that those who outwardly express love for one another might not truly feel it after all.
If NO ONE IS COMING TO SAVE US proves anything, it’s that outside appearances should be taken with a grain of salt. The mistress may be classier than the wife. The cheating husband may be a better man than the one who made the grand gesture. Or perhaps, people’s wants and desires, and what’s good for them, are more complex than the world makes it seem. A small town may be boring, desolate even, but it contains a family and its web of people who can love each other without really being in love with one another, and that is a unique thing.
Reviewed by Bianca Ambrosio on April 7, 2017
No One Is Coming to Save Us
- Publication Date: April 4, 2017
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Ecco
- ISBN-10: 0062472984
- ISBN-13: 9780062472984