Magnolia Song

a saga of the new south

Fiction - Literary
528 Pages
Reviewed on 12/12/2022
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite

Magnolia Song: A Saga of the New South by J. Robert Towery is a monumental saga of love, loss, community, and familial relationships, set in Memphis, Tennessee, and elsewhere around the deep south of the United States. It tells of the interlocking relationships within a community that are built up and then often destroyed over a period greater than a century. Gator Bates is a real estate tycoon in Memphis with a penchant for heavy drinking and telling wild, outlandish stories to his mates at the exclusive Collegiate Club. Rory McVey is a businessman who inherited his daddy’s fortune and then proceeded to lose the bulk of it in a series of poor and ill-judged investments. When a fight between the pair erupts one evening in the bar of the Collegiate Club, the reader is taken through the deep and often sordid history of their families and the reason behind the animosity between them. This roller-coaster journey encompasses four generations of their families and stories of incest, violence, drugs, murder, and the all-terrifying members of the infamous Aryan Brotherhood, which has a massive influence in the South’s criminal underworld.

Magnolia Song is a sweeping, powerful novel that exposes the tenuous links that create and maintain the veneer of gentility and civilization that we take as representing the South. Author J. Robert Towery has created a cast of characters who are as interesting, complex, and broad as the south itself. The presentation of the book itself allows it to stand out and be above the competition. It qualifies as a work of extreme professionalism and thoughtful organization. I particularly appreciate the pictures and designs that helped to illuminate and bring the prose to life. The web of lies, deceit, and secrets that the author spins within these characters is what makes this tale so fascinating and utterly absorbing. I particularly enjoyed the character of Taylor who was written so beautifully and emotionless that it was the perfect embodiment of whom she had become. This is no lightweight story at over five hundred pages but the length allows the author to fully explore the characters, their motivations, and the structure of southern society both today and through history. I was absorbed completely by the story and was able to easily read the entire novel in just two sittings. It will grasp readers with its realistic characters, and tense and gripping action arcs, along with instilling a desire for certain characters to ultimately get the just deserts they so richly deserve. Any author who can draw his readership into a such wholehearted commitment to his characters has achieved his goal and J. Robert Towney has certainly done that. I can highly recommend this excellent book.

Pikasho Deka

Magnolia Song by J. Robert Towery is a sprawling epic saga about four generations of two Southern families whose interweaving paths intersect amidst events that will have ramifications for future generations. The book begins with Gator Bates - son of a real-estate tycoon - getting himself into a violent altercation with Rory McVey, one of the only two beneficiaries of the McVey Family Trust, together with his sister Pam. What follows is a focus on the members of the Bates and McVey families as they navigate their lives through the next few decades. After killing her father, Taylor McVey sets out to take the McVey name to the next level, leading her on a path of lies, betrayal, murder, and crime. The last part is narrated by a young woman named Seal Sterling, whose search for her family history will reveal secrets better left buried.

I found it difficult to write a proper synopsis of Magnolia Song as J. Robert Towery's epic family saga is so grand in scale and scope that it felt as if every character should have a separate book in which the reader could follow their entire life. The plotting is intricate and narrated by a cast with multiple points of view, with characters each more intriguing than those before. Despite the large cast, every character feels well-fleshed out, with complex layers to their personalities that will keep readers thoroughly invested in their stories. Taylor was by far my favorite of the bunch. Her psychopathic drive to get what she wants makes her not only dangerous but also riveting to read. If you're into epic dramas about dysfunctional families, read this book.

Stephanie Chapman

J. Robert Towery creates an in-depth exploration of southern culture spanning over a century. Divided into four parts, Magnolia Song focuses on a comprehensive array of characters. Part One effectively presents the story of Gator Bates and Rory McVey’s involvement with Saint Andrews’ private school. The history of both men is covered completely, giving a detailed personality development of how each led their lives. Part Two continues with the downfall of the McVey fortunes and Rory’s ultimate demise. After losing her father, the emerging temperament of Taylor McVey’s whirlwind lifestyle hurtles to the forefront of the story in Part Three. Part Four brings about the inquisitive nature of Seal Sterling, and her trip on self-discovery and relationship in the entirety of the saga even before her conception.

J. Robert Towery left no stone unturned with this saga. There were so many figures with full backstories explored that he built a chronological index at the back of the book. I enjoyed seeing the illustrations, adding appeal to the events occurring in each chapter. The dialogue was engaging, and I could envision the emotion and atmosphere of every conversation. My favorite character was Seal Sterling and I felt the same shock she had as she followed her family record. This novel covers everything from corporate espionage, the Aryan Brotherhood’s control of political people, family coverups, entrepreneurship, and more. I felt like I was reading the perfect story for a soap opera television show and I couldn’t pause for fear I would miss an episode. I recommend Magnolia Song to anyone who enjoys complex stories with characters who bring every moment to life with ease.

Sefina Hawke

Magnolia Song: A Saga of the New South by J. Robert Towery is a novel that would appeal most to a diverse audience of mature young adults and adults who like suspense stories full of southern culture and who do not mind sexual situations, graphic violence, and explicit language. Beauregard Titus Bates, more commonly known as Gator or Beaux, is the son of the well-off real estate tycoon, Barry Bates. He spends his evenings at the Collegiate Club sharing all manner of wild fables with his drunken friends. By day Gator lives on a ranch in northwest Mississippi that has a marijuana crop, a bull alligator, and numerous rare snakes, all of which make it a mayhem magnet. Gator’s life of chaos leads him on a mission to rescue his adopted son from a Texas salt flat where he is staked to the ground. Will Gator succeed in his rescue or will he become distracted by the revelations he uncovers along the way?

Magnolia Song by J. Robert Towery is a well-written book that captures the southern vibe of both the period and the culture. I liked the way the chapters were not just filled with words, but also a collection of black and white images that served to help me picture certain story elements. The story did have a slow start that took me a few chapters of reading but then I was properly hooked on the story and desperate to keep following Gator to see what sort of havoc he would find next in his life and on his rescue mission. I found this book to be an unusual read that was filled with a cast of mad characters and equally mad tales that made it an enjoyable experience.

K.C. Finn

Magnolia Song: A Saga of the New South is a work of Southern literary style fiction with humor and plenty of interpersonal drama. It is best suited to mature readers owing to scenes of violence, sexual situations, and the use of explicit language throughout, and it was penned by author J. Robert Towery. Written as a family saga, but also with a scope that really captures the whole spirit, culture, and society of the new south in the United States, this drama centers on a wild tall-tale spinner named Gator Bates. When Gator’s adopted son makes a terrible error in judgment, a whole underbelly of incest, murder, and intrigue is uncovered that sees two families and four generations entwined by fate and disaster.

Considering how serious and unpleasant some of the subject matter of this work is, I was impressed by how warm and funny the work could be too in so many places. There’s a rich complexity to the narrative quality that author J. Robert Towery possesses in order to take readers through so many different emotions, yet all of these ideas, crimes, passions, stories and emotions melt perfectly into the bubbling pot of the new south to create a smooth story that has to be read and thought about to be truly appreciated. Gator is an enigmatic character who really sets the tone for the rest of the story, offering a tongue-in-cheek and no-holds-barred approach to getting what you want out of life. Overall, this makes Magnolia Song a superb work of drama, pathos, satire, and adventure that is sure to be one you remember reading for many years to come.