“Winston’s Book of Souls” by Terresa Cooper Haskew

Although Terresa Haskew’s debut novel, Winston’s Book of Souls (Touchpoint Press 2024), begins with a dead body and revelation of other crimes, it is at heart a story of desire for atonement. Her characters make mistakes but yearn to live good lives. With an ever-increasing tone of foreboding, the story pulls readers relentlessly forward to learn what outcomes the main characters will face. Will it be jail and disgrace—or happy, productive lives spent with family?

The two main characters, Winston and Louis, are life insurance salesmen. Winston, an older White man, takes Louis, a young Black man, under his wing after he spots Louis’s ability to spin a convincing story to make a sale. The setting is the 1906s in Pineville, Florida, and the insurance company bosses have reservations about hiring a Black to service its customers. The South is still very segregated. So much so, that Louis is not surprised by a headline proclaiming that Count Basie has been refused service in a restaurant after he performed at Florida State University. But Winston goes to bat for Louis, convincing the company of the young man’s worth.

The title refers to Winston’s book of insurance receipts. His wife Ruthie believes those Winston insures have “entrusted him with their very souls.” She says he is like their “guardian angel” because he makes them feel safe. Clearly intelligent and intuitive, Winston solves several problems for his insurance company, saving them considerable sums of money as well as preserving their reputation. He has honed that sharp ability to spot crooks because “Knowing his own faults, Winston was often suspicious of others.” He hopes to parlay those good instincts into a new position as an insurance investigator, a job that would come with a bigger salary to take care of his family.

Louis, too, needs more income if he hopes to save enough money to marry his girlfriend Etta. But there are hints that he harbors secrets about his past that could upend his dreams. DEspite the differences in their ages and race, their lives have surprising parallels.

A monster storm and other surprise twists keep the suspense building until Winston and Louis are forced to confront their secret-filled pasts that could destroy them. Winston’s Book of Souls is an enjoyable read with excellent plotting.

A true wordsmith, Haskew uses delightful word choices, such as Winston “mully-grubbing over the lackluster response to his job advertisements” or “Walter Cronkite’s distinctive, commanding voice now graveled heavy and hopeless.” She is a writer to watch in the future.

Terresa Cooper Haskew

Haskew wrote Breaking Commandments, a collection of Southern free verse poetry. Her poems, short stories and book reviews have appeared in over fifty printed journal and anthology issues such as American Journal of Nursing; Archive: South Carolina Poetry Since 2005; Atlanta Review; Press 53 Open Awards Anthology; Pearl; and The Main Street Rag. Her work has won the Emrys Journal 2013 Nancy Dew Taylor Poetry Award; the Press 53 2010 First Prize for Poetry; and the Poetry Society of South Carolina’s 2015 Starkey Flythe, Jr. Memorial Prize. A former resident of Tallahassee, Florida, she now resides in South Carolina with her husband.

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