Bret lott's novel Jewel came out in 1991, and it did well—Publishers Weekly called it "haunting," and the hardback sold respectably, but then people pretty much forgot about it, this novel that tells the story of Jewel Hilburn, and how she pieced together a hardscrabble life in rural Mississippi, and in particular how she unstintingly loved, and fought for, and had faith in her daughter Brenda Kay, her sixth child, who was born in 1943, and who had Down syndrome.

No one much heard anything about Jewel—that is, until 1999, when Oprah selected it for her book club. This was the first incarnation of her book club, when she was picking contemporary novels, not classics. You might remember when she picked Jewel. It was right after she picked Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts (and I confess that for years, I knew nothing about Bret Lott or Billie Letts, except that both of them had written Oprah books, and their names were so oddly similar, I used to get them confused with one another).

The day Oprah called, of course, changed Bret Lott's life, or at least his career. Before Oprah called, Lott was a mid-list Southern novelist whom everyone respected but maybe hadn't read. After she called, he was a phenomenon.

One reason it's worth paying attention to this phenomenon is that Bret Lott is a fine, fine writer. Another reason is this: He's a true-blue evangelical, one of our own, yet anointed by Oprah—a true-blue evangelical who writes literary fiction that New York takes seriously.

Also, after half a decade of silence—call it post-Oprah writer's block—Bret Lott's just now coming out with three new books. They're all delicious.

Getting There

Bret Lott had one of those dramatic, datable conversions, a venerable ...

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