“Kind of Kin" by Rilla Askew (HarperCollins, $25.99)
I first encountered the absorbing, beautifully written work of Oklahoma native Rilla Askew in her 2007 novel, “Harpsong." I’ve since read her three earlier books and have eagerly anticipated a new one. Whatever topic she tackles, I have faith that Askew will gently yet forcefully knead it into something unforgettable.
“Kind of Kin" does not disappoint. Askew sets “Kind of Kin" in 2008, among a tight-knit Southeast Oklahoma clan that’s cash-poor but rich in extended-family ties. Askew’s portrayals of family spats, nitpicking, loyalty and love bring the book much of its laugh-out-loud humor, even amid unsettling and daunting circumstances.
Georgia “Sweet" Brown Kirkendall’s father, Bob Brown, is in jail for the crime of allowing 14 illegal Mexican immigrants to take temporary shelter in his barn. Askew structures the novel, in part, around a 2007 Oklahoma law that made it a felony for U.S. citizens to knowingly provide shelter, transportation or employment to illegal immigrants.
The author focuses the legislative part of the story around a fiercely ambitious female state representative whose main concern is how she looks on camera.
Grandpa Bob, having joined forces with a Pentecostal pastor named Jesus (which in itself annoys some of the area’s citizens, including Sweet), has not only gone to jail, he intends to stay there, to make his point about the unfairness of the law.
Askew gets right to the intimate heart of the immigration debate via Sweet’s interaction with Juanito’s daughter Concepcion. Sweet adores the child but wants to call her Connie because, she says, “Concepcion was just too, well, Mexican. Not to mention Catholic."