For readers of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie and The Turner House, an intimately told story about a woman living by her own rules and the rural community that struggles to understand her.
Azalea "Knot" Centre is determined to live life as she pleases. Let the people of West Mills say what they will; the neighbors' gossip won't keep Knot from what she loves best: cheap moonshine, nineteenth-century literature, and the company of men. And yet, Knot is starting to learn that her freedom comes at a high price. Alone in her one-room shack, ostracized from her relatives and cut off from her hometown, Knot turns to her neighbor, Otis Lee Loving, in search of some semblance of family and home.
Otis Lee is eager to help. A lifelong fixer, Otis Lee is determined to steer his friends and family away from decisions that will cause them heartache and ridicule. After his failed attempt as a teenager to help his older sister, Otis Lee discovers a possible path to redemption in the chaos Knot brings to his doorstep. But while he’s busy trying to fix Knot’s life, Otis Lee finds himself powerless to repair the many troubles within his own family, as the long-buried secrets of his troubled past begin to come to light.
Set in an African American community in rural North Carolina from 1941 to 1987, In West Mills is a magnificent, big-hearted small-town story about family, friendship, storytelling, and the redemptive power of love.
About the Author
De'Shawn Charles Winslow was born and raised in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. He is a 2017 graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and holds a BFA in creative writing and an MA in English literature from Brooklyn College. He lives in New York.
“This tender, exuberant, and impressively crafted debut novel spans decades of family upheaval and painful secrets in telling the story of a freethinking black woman in a tightly knit Carolina community. . . in the brave, hard-bitten, but deeply vulnerable Knot, Winslow has created a character as memorable and colorful as any created by Knot's favorite writer, Charles Dickens.” —Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
“Winslow's stellar debut follows the residents of a black neighborhood in a tiny North Carolina town over the course of several decades . . . Winslow has a finely tuned ear for the way the people of this small town talk, and his unpretentiously poetic prose goes down like a cool drink of water on a hot day.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“Beginning in the 1940s and spanning 40 years, Winslow's debut novel shares themes of acceptance and the importance of community through the eyes of a fierce, memorable anti-heroine . . . Winslow is a natural storyteller whose writing is like a mash-up of Zora Neale Hurston and Edward Kelsey Moore, and his characters spark to life, especially Knot, who Winslow magically makes both enraging and endearing. . . its humor and heart will win over many readers.” —Booklist
“There are plenty of adjectives that could describe Winslow's debut: endearing, certainly. Hilarious, absolutely. Charming, for days. But none of them are adequate to this quietly complicated, impossibly big-hearted novel about family, migration and the unbearable difficulties of love. Here's a cast of characters you won't soon forget.” —Ayana Mathis, bestselling author of THE TWELVE TRIBES OF HATTIE
“De'Shawn Charles Winslow is in possession of a voice, one that's not only pitch-perfect but also arresting and important and new. It's a voice that's by turns funny and heartbreaking and beautiful, much like the characters of In West Mills themselves. This novel will grab you first by the ears, and then by the hand, and then by the heart.” —Rebecca Makkai, author of THE GREAT BELIEVERS
“De'Shawn Charles Winslow has a rare and blessed gift for writing characters who live and breathe and struggle and love one another and attain, in their imperfect, human way, a miraculous grace. The scope of this slim novel astonishes me: it encompasses an entire world.” —Garth Greenwell, author of WHAT BELONGS TO YOU
“In West Mills by De'Shawn Charles Winslow is an enthralling debut from a masterful writer. Prepare to be captivated by the community of West Mills, with its deep secrets and even deeper friendships. I love this compassionate, profound book.” —Helen Phillips, author of THE BEAUTIFUL BUREAUCRAT
“Reading In West Mills is like joining a new family, one you didn't know you needed to be part of. De'Shawn Winslow's stubborn, vivid characters will take over your imagination; you'll worry about Knot's drinking and Breezie's wanting two of everything and the many women Otis Lee loves. And when you get to the end you'll wonder how this short novel contains so many lives, so much wit and warmth. A stunning debut.” —Margot Livesey, author of THE FLIGHT OF GEMMA HARDY
“In West Mills is full of vernacular riches. In it, De'Shawn Winslow and his characters show themselves to be masters of what Zora Neale Hurston referred to admiringly in African American expression as 'drama' and the 'will to adorn.' Readers won't be able to resist falling for the people who populate this striking debut novel, which is a treasure of humor, warmth, and wisdom.” —Jamel Brinkley, author of A LUCKY MAN
“Reminiscent of August Wilson's 10-play cycle marking each decade in 20th-century African-American history, In West Mills telescopes four decades into a densely packed drama. [. . .]Characters deal with inflamed emotions, gender and race roles, sexual preferences, addiction and children born out of wedlock-the stuff of the soap operas Knot and friends watch every day on their new televisions. What distinguishes West Mill's melodrama from episodic TV, however, is the real-life, unglamorous attitudes of ordinary people. [. . .] In West Mills exemplifies the timeless adage that it takes a village to raise one another. This is a historical fiction triumph.” —BookPage, starred review