Late one night in the spring of 1929, a proper young Charleston woman named Mary Seneca Steele goes to bed while considering what to wear for her suicide. Now, suddenly she arises, steals her children and her husband’s new Auburn Phaeton, and sets out on an impulsive journey—one which begins with learning to drive.
At the moment when Mary Sen makes her escape from the privileged South, her worst transgression so far has been going out without her hat. But there will be no returning to her old life once Mary Sen abandons it.
At the end of the long, bumpy road she travels lies a river-washed mountain cove. Its birch forest shimmers in peculiar light, seductive and haunting in its welcome. Here, Mary Sen finds a family she’s never known. In its grasp, she will discover her enigmatic cousin, Ben Aaron, and her Aunt Panama, the keeper of family secrets.
A disquieting love affair begets a string of tragedies, including murder, some tough and urgent maturing, and a startling salvation—all in the embrace of a big, old unpainted house. Full of songs and echoes, long after their remains lie silent in the birch grove up the hill.
Like a trip down a whitewater river, with stretches of placid beauty that suddenly give way to thunderous rapids, Refuge will bear readers along on its current, through a landscape of natural splendor—and hard-won redemption.
“Refuge by Dot Jackson is an engaging novel depicting the spontaneous escape of Mary Seneca Steele with her children from the life of unhappiness in the South. Captivating as it carries readers through the intimate tale of discovery of self, life, and family, Refuge brings Mary to the family she had never known in the mountain cove and birch forest where she connects with Ben Aron, her cousin, Panama, her aunt, and enters a love affair which results in several tragic and intricately plotted events. Exceptionally well written, Refuge is very strongly recommended for the readers seeking a vivid tale of love, intimacy, fate, and an evocative mystery.” Midwest Book Review
“With its descriptions of the hardships of rural mountain life in an historical setting and a strong Southern woman survivor theme, this new voice in Appalachian fiction echoes Robert Morgan (Gap Creek) and Charles Frazier. Mary Seneca ‘Sen’ Steele is born and raised in early 20th-century Charleston, but her family ties to the mountains through her father are always strong. Long after his death, she escapes an abusive and dissolute husband with two young children in tow by driving deep into the mountains with only a vague idea of where to go to find the relatives she's never met. With a lot of help from strangers who all turn out to be related, she manages to inhabit an abandoned family homestead and develop a new life. Amidst family dramas of life and death, love interests, storms, and deprivation, this regional tale with a thick local accent develops into an entertaining saga. It should find an appreciative audience in Southern fiction fans.” Library Journal
“Mary Seneca Steele deserves a place in your heart. And she deserves a place in literature, for she is as remarkable and as memorable as Jane Eyre or Ellen Olenska or Isabel Archer.” The (Columbia, S.C.) State