Will Allison, who has worked as executive editor at Story magazine and editor-at-large for Zoetrope: All-Story, knows his way around a good tale. With his debut novel, What You Have Left, Allison has written a very good story indeed.
It centers on Holly, a girl left to live with her grandfather in 1976 at age five after her mother, a former aspiring NASCAR driver, dies following a waterskiing accident and her father runs off. Said grandfather is last in a long line of men who have all succumbed to Alzheimer's, and he's determined not to meet the same fate.
Eventually Holly decides she must track down her father, and their eventual reunion is strange but satisfying. The members of this family all seem to share the same kind of crazy, and they're all hilarious, tragic, deeply human characters you'd love to sit and have a beer (or a pitcher of Bloody Marys) with.
Their stories are filled with human failings, as well as the anguish of loss and the hope for forgiveness from those most important to them. They're also filled with situations most readers can't relate to like dirt track racing and some that everyone can relate to like trying to mourn a loved one, heal a wound, start a new life. The book skips through the decades and follows different characters' points of view, which is sometimes a little jarring but ultimately gives readers a broader and better view of the story. Born and raised in South Carolina, Allison knows Southern characters and paints them with a sympathetic brush, even when they're addicted to video poker, sneaking cigarettes or defending their state's right to fly the Confederate flag. What You Have Left is a book readers will want to rush through and savor at the same time.