The Forsters of Mississippi build their dynasty on a cola brand that, in its heyday, ranks first ahead of Coke and Pepsi. In this offbeat epic, named an NPR Best Book of the Year, the family soon passes from riches and renown to obscurity.
American Pop chronicles the lives, loves, triumphs, and ultimate downfall of the Forsters of Mississippi, who build an empire on a soda brand called Pan Cola, then lose it all in just a few generations of begats. It all starts with Houghton Forster, keeper of the cola's secret ingredient. From his humble start behind the counter of his father's Rex-for-All drugstore, he meets and marries the wealthy and beautiful Annabelle Teague, then devises the fizzy confection that makes his fortune. Together, he and Annabelle raise up a stable of children whose destinies and place on the world stage seem absolutely assured. Politician Montgomery, the heir apparent, harbors his own secret, a tragic loss from the Great War. The "infernal twins," Lance and Ramsey, are children of the Jazz Age who live in pursuit of pleasure, heedless of the consequences for people in their orbit. Harold, or Haddy, is mentally challenged and so childlike, he is overlooked even by those who love him. Defying the rules of narrative chronology, author Snowden Wright slips in and out of storylines and character arcs like a wriggling fish, and never lets readers off the hook. While the cast sometimes feels overpopulated—we are introduced to Houghton's grandchildren, Imogene and Nicholas, who will eventually vie for control of PanCola, as well as the love children of the previous generation—the characters do not read as caricatures, and it's easy to care for them all, to a person. This Southern Gothic drama is extraordinary in its inventiveness, grandiloquent in its use of language, and satisfying in its resolution. This is my first acquaintance with novelist Snowden Wright, but American Pop is all it took to make me a fan.