In The Family Way

Random House, 1999
  • Chosen for the Book of the Month Club
  • Winner of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award for 2000

Set the early 1960's, Greenville, South Carolina, In the Family Way is about about Jeru Lamb, a boy trying to come to terms with his brother's death. He's also trying to understand his mother's conversion to Christian Science, his father's literary ambitions (and recent calling as "a Waffle House mystic"), the racial landscape of the segregated South, and a new classmate from the wrong side of the tracks who claims to be his half-sister. “It was not lost on me that by expecting the worst every breathing moment, I backed into prophecy once in a while,” says Jeru, and when his mother finds herself “in the family way”—against doctor’s orders—Jeru is left to wonder just what he might lose next.


“This slender book is a beautiful and haunting hymn to the meaning and power of family…  In the Family Way is a sad book, with death hanging over virtually every page. But it is so full of joyous writing, wonderful scenes and characters, and sly humor, that it is nothing if not uplifting. Actually, it is nothing if not an instant classic.” —Frank Reiss in the Atlanta Constitution

“There’s a certain kind of novel–charming, gentle, good-hearted—that doesn’t get much press these days. In the Family Way,  by Asheville writer Tommy Hays, is a fine example that deserves all the reviewers’ ink it can get. Sweet but never cloying, affecting but never sentimental, it’s a tale that will touch your heart.” —Polly Paddock Gossett in the Charlotte Observer

“A snapshot of a Southern boy’s coming-of-age in 1960s South Carolina, Hays’ second novel clearly uses the turbulence of the decade to contextualize one family’s problems but never lets the drama of the era overwhelm the story… The welcome result is a believable young hero grappling with family life in a new way. This richly textured story triumphs with its multifaceted characters and genuinely affectionate sensitivity. Publisher’s Weekly

“Oprah will want to check out Tommy Hays.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The writing is graceful, fluid and rich… People and places are described evocatively but with economy… Hays creates suspense by nuance, which gives the narrative a spare, haunting quality that never descends to sentimentality. Without ever losing the sense of reality, he manages to imbue his Greenville with a vaguely mystical quality, like looking through to the bottom of a rippling stream.” —Lawrence Goldstone in the Chicago Tribune

“In this wry and compassionate novel, the narrator’s family life is mysterious and beautiful, a kind of communal secret that everyone somehow knows.  Tommy Hays has a gift for small details and large themes, and his novel radiates a kind of unsentimental sweetness and generosity that is quite rare in American writing.” —Charles Baxter, author of The Feast of Love and The Sun Collective

“Hays gives us a vivid new guide to the family territory of childhood… An eloquent, suspenseful, and highly readable novel.” —Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy and The Road from Belhaven

“What a lovely novel… In this sweet, dark, heartfelt family story, Tommy Hays has conjured up our lost American innocence without ever giving in to nostalgia.  I surrendered on page one.” —Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls and Nobody’s Fool