Perish: A Novel (Hardcover)
On Our Shelves Now.
“Watkins’s prose is effortless and forthright. . . . This is an impressive feat of storytelling. . . . It’s a difficult read and a tender story of silences and secrets. It’s a novel about coming home, despite that home being broken. And it’s a brave triumph of a novel that readers won’t forget long after finishing it.”
—The New York Times Book Review
Named a Most Anticipated Book of the Year by Good Morning America * Essence* Esquire * The Root * Bustle * Ebony * PopSugar * Ms. * The Millions
From a stunning new voice comes a powerful debut novel, Perish, about a Black Texan family, exploring the effects of inherited trauma and intergenerational violence as the family comes together to say goodbye to their matriarch on her deathbed.
Bear it or perish yourself. Those are the words Helen Jean hears that fateteful night in her cousin’s outhouse that change the trajectory of her life.
Spanning decades, Perish tracks the choices Helen Jean—the matriarch of the Turner family—makes and the way those choices have rippled across generations, from her children to her grandchildren and beyond.
Told in alternating chapters, Perish follows four members of the Turner family: Julie B., a woman who regrets her wasted youth and the time spent under Helen Jean’s thumb; Alex, a police officer grappling with a dark and twisted past; Jan, a mother of two who yearns to go to school and leave Jerusalem, Texas, and all of its trauma behind for good; and Lydia, a woman whose marriage is falling apart because her body can’t seem to stay pregnant, as they're called home to say goodbye to their mother and grandmother.
This family’s “reunion” unearths long-kept secrets and forces each member to ask themselves important questions about who is deserving of forgiveness and who bears the cross of blame.
Set in vividly drawn Texas and tackling themes like trauma, legacy, faith, home, class, race, and more, this beautiful yet heart-wrenching novel will appeal to anyone who is interested in the intricacies of family and the ways bonds can be made, maintained, or irrevocably broken.
About the Author
LaToya Watkins’s writing has appeared in A Public Space, The Sun magazine, McSweeney’s, Kenyon Review, The Pushcart Prize XXXIX (2015), and elsewhere. She has received grants, scholarships, and fellowships from MacDowell, Yaddo, Hedgebrook, and A Public Space (she was one of their 2018 emerging writers fellows). She holds a PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas. Perish is her debut novel.
*A Black Caucus of the American Library Association Honor Book for Fiction*
*Named one of BookBub’s “16 Books to Read Over Labor Day Weekend” and Ebony's “Books by Black Authors That Should Be on Your Fall Reading List”*
Praise for Perish
"Watkins’s prose is effortless and forthright. . . .This is an impressive feat of storytelling. . . . A tender story of silences and secrets. It’s a novel about coming home, despite that home being broken. And it’s a brave triumph of a novel that readers won’t forget long after finishing it."
—The New York Times Book Review
“Though painful, this beautifully crushing experiment in empathy and brokenness is worth experiencing. Watkins and Tiny Reparations Books have made a bold statement with Perish and will both be worth watching for what comes next.”
“Perish offers a moving look into Black communities, bringing complexity and nuance to this story of intergenerational trauma and the toll it takes on the human spirit. But for all the secrets, resentments, and bitterness here, Watkins has generosity of spirit enough to entertain the possibility of forgiveness; miraculous and moving, light glimmers at the edges of this wise novel.”
“Expertly weaving alternating chapters littered with regrets, fears, and hopes, Watkins's poignant prose and powerful voice cement her as one to watch.”
“With Perish, Watkins joins a tradition of Southern writers who delve into the taboo and grotesque to expose a dark past and a dim, backtracking present. . . . Like Walker’s The Color Purple and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Perish lures readers past the pain with a spellbinding, buoyant use of language.”
“With Perish, Watkins has shaken off the shame of the ultimate taboo and brought it to light through the story of the unforgettable women who bear its burden. This novel will serve as a hand extended through the darkness to a great many of its readers.”
—Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
“Perish [is] an important and emotional read for anyone who’s had to reckon with their roots and the influence they have on their future. . . . Readers will discover their own strength and ability to move past intergenerational trauma—and embrace their roots along the way.”
“This debut opens with the character that will become the matriarch of the book, swilling turpentine in an attempt at an abortion. These early pages made my whole body hurt for Helen Jean and for the world that we live in. Perish moves backward and forward in time, following the Turner children as they navigate childhood and adulthood as Black Americans living in Texas. There is deep trauma for all of them as they're forced to reckon with their past and the decline of the woman that held their family together. At times, there is stomach-flipping sadness in this book, but it also marks the beginning of what is sure to be a dazzling writing career for LaToya Watkins.”
—Al Woodworth, Amazon Book Review Editor
“In this devastating debut, generational trauma has riven a Black Texas family, but the death of their matriarch may give the family a final chance to tell unvarnished truths to each other and maybe, finally, heal. Latoya Watkins’s impassioned prose brings to life her complex characters and their heavy internal struggles, as well as the flawed, but overwhelming, love they feel for one another.”
“With grace and aplomb, Watkins electrifies and shatters.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“[LaToya's] bold and captivating writing keeps readers floating through time, leaving us with thought-provoking revelations regarding healing that begins with loving and forgiving oneself before it can be extended to others.”
“I’d be hard-pressed to say what I admire most about LaToya Watkins’s debut novel—the nuanced, fully realized characters, the firmly rooted sense of place, or the author’s fierce, elegant, and fearless prose. Perish is a heartrending story, urgently told, about family, trauma, and the salvific power of forgiveness and love. Helen Jean Turner and her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will linger in my heart for a long time.”
―Elizabeth Wetmore, New York Times bestselling author of Valentine
“LaToya Watkins writes with a gaze that is warm and compassionate, but courageous and unflinching, refusing to look away from difficulty. Perish is a resonant debut novel, a robust family story told with beautiful cadences and textures. Watkins has a wonderful heart that animates every page from beginning to end.”
―Jamel Brinkley, author of A Lucky Man
“The love LaToya Watkins has for her characters is evident on every page of this incredibly moving debut. Read Perish with a family member.”
―De'Shawn Charles Winslow, author of the prize-winning novel In West Mills
“LaToya Watkins is a writer of undeniable talent and her debut novel, Perish, is a piercing family drama with characters who will stay with you for a long, long time.”
―Regina Porter, author of The Travelers
“From the early pages of this novel, I knew I was in the hands of a master storyteller. Watkins stuns in this impressive debut about how trauma travels with us across generations. This story of family and forgiveness will stay with you long after the last page.”
—Nancy Johnson, author of The Kindest Lie
“Perish is distressing, wildly unpredictable and entirely unforgettable.”