The Last Karankawas

Holt. Aug. 2022. 288p. ISBN 9781250819857. $26.99. F
DEBUT Set in the years, months, days, and minutes before Hurricane Ike ravaged Galveston, TX in 2008, this debut is itself a swirling tempest of a novel. Ostensibly centering on Carly Castillo, a young woman of mixed Filipino and Mexican heritage— and, if her grandmother is to be believed, also descended from the Karankawas, an Indigenous Texan people until recently thought extinct—the narrative takes the shape of a narrative curlicue, moving forward and backward in time and alternating viewpoint chapters among friends, family, and even strangers in Carly’s degrees-of-separation orbit. It’s at once a city symphony of Galveston and an affecting portrait of why some people feel drawn to stay or return home while others feel compelled to run, to evacuate the state of their lives. The emotional palette anticipates and mirrors the impending hurricane, which forces more immediate and less abstract decisions onto the novel’s memorable characters, who include an aged former philanderer who hunkers down while his sick wife is moved inland; an anonymous, specterlike former soldier; and Carly’s dementia-addled grandmother, who believes age-old rituals can save the island.
VERDICT Populated by indelible characters, this graceful, deeply compassionate work is a moving study of memory, the permeable boundaries it shares with myth, how it roils and folds and persists into the present, and how we are often forced to choose between learning to live inside it and trying to outrun it.
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