Monica Brashears has written a dark and twisted thriller with House of Cotton. The book deals with everything from racial tensions to addiction to sexual abuse to ghosts all set against a stunning backdrop of the Deep South. The protagonist, nineteen-year-old Magnolia, is trying to process her grandmother’s death and survive on the little money she makes from a gas station job when she meets Cotton Reuter, a white man who offers her a modeling job and the chance at a better life.
Magnolia’s work with Cotton and his aunt Eden takes place in a home situation above a funeral home. Eden’s makeup artistry and Cotton’s photography transport Magnolia–when she’s in character, she becomes someone else: the dead person she emulates for the grieving family and friends. This ability to transform isn’t new; she also does it while having anonymous sex with men she meets through Tinder. The compartmentalization she manages is startling given the way she embodies her pain and loss. Brashears brilliantly renders her agony; Magnolia is razor-sharp about her circumstances, even as she continues to use her body in ways that don’t make life better. There is a lesson, but she isn’t learning it.
Ultimately the book is a great choice for people who like Gothic lit and want to delve into the darkness, but House of Cotton is not for the squeamish or faint of heart.