The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt…
About the Book:
One spinster sister must unravel the complicated secrets of her family to reveal their true legacy.
Judith inherited all the Kratt family had to offer – the pie safe, the copper clock, the murder that no one talked about. She’s presided over the house quite well, thank you very much, admittedly with some help from her companion, Olva.
But her wayward younger sister suddenly returns home after decades, sparking an inventory of all that belongs to them. Set in the hard-luck cotton town of Bound, South Carolina – which the Kratts used to rule but which now struggles to contain its worst instincts – the new household overflows with memories.
Interweaving the present with chilling flashbacks from one fateful evening in 1929, Judith pieces together a list of what matters. Untangling the legacy of the family misfortunes will require help from every one of them, no matter how tight their bond, how long they’ve called Bound home, or what they own.
The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt opens with a newspaper clipping:
“Murder Stuns Distinguished Family
Quincy Kratt, age 14, sustained a fatal gunshot wound to his person in the early hours of Friday, December 20. Young Mr. Kratt was a scion of the cotton industry in Bound, South Carolina. His father, the influential businessman Brayburn Kratt, is one of our local captains of that industry. The principal suspect in the shooting is a negro called Charlie Watson, who is employed by the Kratt Mercantile Company and whose whereabouts are as yet unknown.
York Herald, Saturday, December 21, 1929.”
And instantly I was caught up in this novel. My mind immediately attributed Quincy’s death to an accident, but it’s apparent from the first chapter that Quincy was in fact murdered. Which just added a whole other layer of intrigue, because why would a fourteen year old be murdered? In all of my imaginings, I did not even come close to guessing the full tragedy beating at the heart of this family. But let’s rewind a bit. Before we get to Quincy, I want to introduce you to Daddy Kratt.
“It’s a question of what we own. Do you own your own life? If you have never had to ask that question, you are fortunate indeed.”
Daddy Kratt is a self-made man, born poor, but smart, he moved to Bound as a young man with the profits of luck rattling around in his pocket. He ingratiated himself with the richest family in town, made himself indispensable to them before marrying their daughter and sliding in to undercut and steal their business dealings. At the time we meet him, in 1929, he owns everything in Bound, from the businesses and rural enterprises that employ people to the houses he rents out to Bound’s poorest residents. If there’s a business he doesn’t own or have a few fingers in, then he’s working on a way to acquire it. That’s where Quincy comes in.
Quincy, at fourteen, is a master spy. His job as such is to lurk, eavesdrop, spy, blackmail, and report back to Daddy Kratt. He runs a little racket on the side of course, because he’s fully aware that while his father utilises his talents whenever he wishes, his father has no time for him beyond this. In fact, despite being the only son, his father appears to despise him. Not so with Judith, the eldest daughter. At sixteen, she is running the accounts for Daddy Kratt’s department store. While in no way affectionate towards her, he appears to have an appreciation for Judith that elevates her, an esteem for her intelligence. Quincy can’t seem to help himself from hating Judith for this, despite their mutual fear of Daddy Kratt. Rosemarie, the youngest, doesn’t factor all that much except to skip out on punishments and disappear for hours on end, effectively shirking any responsibility for anything at all. She’s very much a nothing character but she has her role to play as a catalyst twice over within the story.
It’s Judith that Daddy Kratt seems to be shaping into his right hand. He asks the most abominable things of her, and out fear, and to some degree, pleasure of being the favoured one, she always complies, even if her actions and those of her father’s sit uneasy within her. An example is collecting the rents. Daddy Kratt brings Judith along on this pilgrimage, sending her in to each poor family to collect the rents owed that they have no chance of paying. For each family who can’t pay, he makes Judith repossess some of their belongings, items of no value to him, yet mean everything to them. A child’s toy wrenched out of crying arms, or an elderly man’s pipe snatched from his lips; Kratt is a disgraceful man who is blatantly shaping his daughter into his own image. Judith knows these things are wrong, yet she complies every time. It’s not until Daddy Kratt asks Judith to organise a lynching mob for a man she works with, and respects, that she actually stops and examines her own conscience and draws a line in the dirt.
“Quincy always knew everything that was going on around him and everything that was about to happen. It was a kind of ecstasy for my brother, at least I imagined it in this way, that in his final moments on earth, he would be taken by surprise.”
When we meet Judith in 1989, she is the matriarch of her family’s estate, the keeper of all of their belongings. She rattles around the mansion with Olva as her companion, yet it’s apparent from the outset that their relationship is not as straight forward as I initially assumed. Olva waits on Judith, and this seems wrong, that a black woman would be the servant of a white one, still in the same position that she was back in the 1920s. But as the story of the past unravels, we see the complexities that layer Judith’s relationship with Olva. When Rosemarie returns to the family home, she’s intent on rocking the boat, deliberately provoking Judith and undermining Olva’s position. But Rosemarie in actuality knows nothing about her own family, having chosen to run away at the age of thirteen, right after her brother’s murder. It’s been sixty years since anyone in the family has seen her.
“It’s a luxury to be able to write or speak in the way you want.”
There’s a lot of sadness within this story and a lot of hatred too. The racism is profound, but likely in keeping with the times and the context of the Kratts position within a small town in the South in the early decades of the 20th century. But even in 1989, it’s not subtle, and as well as racism, we also see the effects of being labelled as inter-generational white trash. As Judith creates an inventory of the contents of her estate, the story from the past unwinds. With the clever use of the inventory, Miss Judith Kratt’s last list has items added to it at the end of each chapter, the list growing alongside the recollection of the horrors of the past. It’s cleverly done. Whilst in many ways this novel is utterly depressing, it’s a portrait of small town America from times gone by. The contrasting of 1929 and 1989 is interesting, to see that racial and class dynamic sixty years apart within the one small, and frankly, dead end southern town. There’s a lot of violence within the novel, but again, it’s all within context. Overall, it’s a beautifully written novel, passages of gorgeous prose with even the most horrendous things depicted with an elegance that lend weight and purpose to the depravity. The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt is an impressive novel, a slice of American history put under the microscope within the context of one family, that many might wish was left in the shadows.
“That last trip to the depot, Judith and I shared the most extraordinary sunset. The earth was both affirming its vastness and reflecting the sprawling wilderness of our souls. Right in front of us, the clouds broke, and the westerly sun asserted itself. It had been waiting behind the depot and , given the opportunity, reached long arms of light straight through the abandoned building, undeterred by two sets of murky windows, until it assembled that light in golden planks on the ground in front of us. I reached over and took Judith’s hand in mine. We would rest our eyes on that place until we couldn’t any longer. We would watch. We are watching . Before us, a house of light is being built, one that will be gone tomorrow.”
Thanks is extended to Sourcebooks Landmark via NetGalley for providing me with a copy of The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt for review.
About the Author:
Andrea Bobotis was born and raised in South Carolina and received her PhD in English Literature from the University of Virginia. Her fiction has received awards from the Raymond Carver Short Story Contest and the James Jones First Novel Fellowship, and her essays on Irish writers have appeared in journals such as Victorian Studies and the Irish University Review. She lives with her family in Denver, Colorado, where she teaches creative writing at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt is her debut novel.
The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark
Released on 9th July 2019