By Jill McCorkle

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Hieroglyphics is a novel that tugs at the deepest places of the human soul—a beautiful, heart-piercing meditation on life and death and the marks we leave on this world. It is the work of a wonderful writer at her finest and most profound.”
—Jessica Shattuck, author of The Women in the Castle

After many years in Boston, Lil and Frank have retired to North Carolina. The two of them married young, having bonded over how they both—suddenly, tragically—lost a parent when they were children. Now, Lil has become deter­mined to leave a history for their own kids. She sifts through letters and notes and diary entries, uncovering old stories—and perhaps revealing more secrets than Frank wants their children to know.

Meanwhile, Frank has become obsessed with the house he lived in as a boy on the outskirts of town, where a young single mother, Shelley, is now raising her son. For Shelley, Frank’s repeated visits begin to trigger memories of her own family, memories that she’d hoped to keep buried. Because, after all, not all parents are ones you wish to remember.

Empathetic and profound, this novel from master storyteller Jill McCorkle deconstructs and reconstructs what it means to be a father or a mother, and to be a child trying to know your parents—a child learning to make sense of the hieroglyphics of history and memory. 



Lately, Shelley hears things in the middle of the night, hinges creaking and papers rustling, but it could be anything—the dog, her son, a mouse, the wind—and she forces her mind to stop right there so she doesn't imagine possibilities that would terrify her, like a killer or a ghost. It doesn't help that that old man rides by so often now, his green Toyota slowing in front of the house and then circling the block.

"I grew up here," he said that first time—now over a year ago—when he parked and came up to the door. His dress shirt was damp with perspiration, and he wiped his face with a handkerchief he then tucked in his shirt pocket. "I would love to see inside if convenient. My wife, too." He pointed to the car, where an old woman lifted her hand in a wave and smiled with what seemed the same weary patience Shelley feels when dealing with her son.

"I moved here when I was ten," he continued. And though with tired, kind eyes he seemed harmless enough, Shelley kept the chain in place while he told her a few more things: There used to be a big sycamore tree, and the cemetery nearby was contained in the old gated part, thick with pines and magnolias, and not like now, sprawled all the way to Highway 211 where they are building a Taco Bell. He said his mother and his stepfather died in the house, which was certainly not something she wanted to hear and she certainly didn't want Harvey to hear. But of course he did.

"People died?" Harvey asked, and stepped closer to the door. He was playing Superhero and had a beach towel around his shoulders and a Batman mask his older brother, Jason, had worn one Halloween when he was much younger.

"Long ago," the man said, and waved his hand, clearly trying to put Harvey at ease. "They were old."

"Were they mean?"

"Not at all." The man looked like he was about to say something else, but Harvey ran back into the living room, where he was watching Nickelodeon while jumping on the sofa, something Shelley had given up trying to control.

She told the man she had lived there only a little over a year herself, and then thought if she didn't say anything else, he would figure out it was not a good day and leave—which he did, but not without asking if he could come back again at a better time. He told her it would really mean a lot to him, and when Shelley looked out toward the car, the woman nodded and waved, this time as if to encourage her to let him in. He pulled out a photo of himself as a young man with his mother, standing right there in front of the house. He seemed like someone she would like, but what if she didn't? What if she didn't and then he wouldn't go away?

"Perhaps when my husband is home," Shelley said. "That would be best." She'd whispered so Harvey wouldn't start asking about his dad again.

Now, there's a creak down the hall, a thump, and she hopes Harvey is fast asleep and doesn't hear this: the wind, the mouse, the dog. Please let him sleep through the night, she thought. She is exhausted these days, and so is it any wonder that she screwed up at work the way that she did? Is it any wonder at all?

Sometimes when she can't sleep, she thinks of old numbers: all the addresses where she has lived, numbers on mailboxes and spray-painted on curbs, some she wishes she could forget, numbers of telephones perched on tables or tethered to walls she will never see again, emergency numbers, numbers important for a child to memorize. Or she distracts herself by thinking of old jingles and ads, like I don't want to grow up, I'm a Toys "R" Us kid, or I am stuck on Band-Aid, or Where's the beef? Body on Tap. Gentlemen prefer Hanes. It's one of those things that once she starts, she can't stop, more and more stuff crowding in and getting stuck, and usually she can get lost in there. Jordache. Jhirmack. Usually she can close her eyes and find sleep.

"I'll be back," the man said that day. And every time since, Shelley has pretended that she's not home. She had told him that he could come inside on a day when her husband was home, and she is still waiting for that day. It's been over a year since she has even talked to Brent, but she still finds herself thinking that it could happen; he could have a change of heart and show up at the door.

"How will Dad know where we are?" Harvey asked when they left Atlanta, and she told him not to worry, that she sent the address. What she didn't say was that she sent it telepathically, because she really wasn't sure where to send it. Brent had said he was moving to Alaska, but the last time he sent a check that got forwarded, it was postmarked Alabama.

Harvey asked did she think his dad would ever come back, and she said yes, yes, she did; she just didn't say as what.

When Brent said he thought it was best if they went their separate ways, he said it was clear she wanted that, too, because she had done nothing to try and change his mind. In a trial, someone would argue that he had manipulated the truth to his own advantage. "Don't you have anything to say?" he asked her.

"Don't ever beg, Shelley," her older brother once told her. He was in high school and worked at the bowling alley on the weekends, and smelled like cigarettes and floor wax and fried food when he draped his arm around her. "They'll always disappoint you."

They were on the small back porch, right off the kitchen, where their parents sat smoking over their empty plates; he whispered, finger up to his lips, then pulled several bills from his back pocket and counted out just enough for her to order something on paperback day at the middle school. People who ordered nothing looked weird or poor, and her brother understood this.

"Here," he said. "Get something good." And she did; she got a book called Dear Patti: Advice for Teenage Girls and a book of tongue twisters she practiced for months after—red leather, yellow leather and she sells seashells—things she sometimes teaches Harvey when he can't sleep, or says to herself when hoping to conjure that image of her brother and better days, or to not think at all.


Before they were even old enough to worry about losing their memories, Lil had quizzed Frank about their special word. "Do you remember?" she would ask, leaning in close for him to whisper in her ear and prove it, like he was some kind of imbecile or hadn't taken that long-ago conversation seriously.

"Of course I remember," he told her. "I thought of it. Do you remember that?"

"Do you remember where we were?"

"Of course I do."

By the time they had packed up their lives and started driving to North Carolina, she said only, "Do you," and he said, "Yes."

"How do you know what I'm going to say?" she asked.

"Because I know you."

But then she asked some other questions, silly things that made them both laugh. Did he remember the name of the man who used to pump their septic tank all the while whistling show tunes in rhythm with the grinding machinery of his pump? Did he remember what went in the recipe for those grasshoppers he made on Saint Patrick's Day a hundred years ago? Crème de menthe and then what? Did he remember her phone number from when they first met?

The whole car ride was filled with such questions, and it was a good way not to feel the sadness they both were feeling, miles falling behind them like all the years they'd lived there.

Retirement has not been all that others told him it would. They had said he would love not reading student papers or typing a syllabus, but that wasn't true. He had missed it, and now, even a decade after the fact, he still does. He misses the schedule and the order of it all, the year neatly divided into terms—pauses for the holidays and summers—those chunks of time all the sweeter because there was an end in sight and he had to cram all that he could into those isolated weeks or summer months.

He'd loved having a topic in mind, an idea, and then setting about researching and reading. It was peaceful down in the library stacks, the smell of old paper and glue.

Do you—


Do you remember when you looked pale as a vampire because you practically lived in that tomb of a library?

It's been hard to get anything new started lately, an idea for a paper or article, though he still keeps up with all the readings, or tries to, all the discoveries he would have sent students to the library to explore. As a younger man, he would have wanted to build a vacation around it: the Egyptian boat carvings in the ancient city Abydos, dating back over thirty-eight hundred years; or the pyramids found within a pyramid in Mexico; the mosaic of Noah's ark in Israel; or the one he feels most drawn to these days, the lost city of Neapolis, submerged off the coast of Tunisia since the fourth century AD.

"Can't you find something old to excite you in Hawaii or Antigua?" Lil had asked after saying she did not want another hot, sandy vacation unless there was a great big ocean and good seafood within walking distance. "And what about Cape Ann? Plenty of old things there."

They always said they would go to Paris, and Lil was quick to add that they also needed a return trip to Florence. But now, Frank's main focus is on exploring the place he'd lived as a boy: the house, the yard, that old root cellar his stepfather dug out near where he'd had his garden.

"Just go knock on the door," Lil had said the first time they rode by. They had barely moved, and she insisted they go see it, that he bring the photograph of himself with his mother, taken in the front yard. "They'll let you in," she said. But so far, that hasn't happened.


August 10, 2016
Southern Pines, North Carolina

You two have always wondered why I spend so much time filling these notebooks (Frank, you, too, if you're reading this!), but it is simply a part of my life, a way to clear my mind and to remember. Sometimes I just record the weather, something simple about the day. It is so easy to let everything run together. I had years that were that way, and I find such loss troubling; better to try to define something, the premature blue dusk of a winter afternoon or the long, clear light of summer, that kind of light that makes you feel immortal. And I guess that's why we hold on to our bits and pieces in the first place, because we aren't immortal, and though denial fills our days and years, especially those that have slipped away, that kernel of truth is always lodged within.

We all are haunted by something—something we did or didn't do—and the passing years either add to the weight or diminish it. Mine has been diminished, perhaps because I've spent time thinking about it all. It might sound silly, but I see these bits and pieces as my contribution to evolution, the unearthing and dusting of the prints and markers that led me here. Some seem to bulldoze right through life and up to their headstones, but I want to take my time. I want to find the right words.

I imagine my recipient to be you two, or perhaps your children, and I hope this is so, rather than some stranger who comes in and hoists old boxes into a dumpster, or rakes away the remainders of my life, like the sad debris in the aftermath of a flood or fire. I will never get over the sight of what we left behind at our home of over 50 years to move down here, a mountain of cast-off things—old towels and linens, papers and books and shoes and pots, side tables and lamps, hoses and hoes, packets of seeds I meant to plant, and a rubber squeak toy that had been safely hidden away in the back of my closet by one of the dogs long dead. And so much more: things not needed, things long forgotten, cans of cream-of-whatever soup and V8 juice (why?) and peas that had sat there forgotten for years, and things that never should have been there in the first place, like Tuna Helper, or those things in my closet like that geometric-print minidress I bought in the '60s, hoping to look like Petula Clark or Judy Carne—a perky-pixie kind of dress that I never had the nerve to wear and instead looked at it there at the back of the closet for years, along with a wiglet and a long frosted fall and some jackets with shoulders resembling a football player's or Victorian monarch's. We divided it all into Goodwill, consignment, recycle, or landfill.

But there were also the things I couldn't let go of—letters, reminders, souvenirs—and I am taking my time, relieved when I find something that might have gotten lost in that mountain of debris, like one of your drawings from first grade or the stub from a movie I'd forgotten I even saw, or a note from my father.

When the moving van pulled away that afternoon and we got in the car and turned southward, the space within the car seemed so empty, vacant, our suitcases and silver chest in the trunk, an overnight bag and thermos of coffee on the back seat, and I had that terrible feeling that I had forgotten something. Because I was thinking of all the times the car was filled with you two, your belongings, your music and voices, the dogs, while going to school or on vacation, or just to the grocery store where I bought all of those things that I then put on the shelf there in our dimly lit pantry—on the red gingham contact paper I spent one snowy afternoon 40 years ago cutting and sticking in place—all those things that I placed there and then forgot about.

I like to imagine that I will be your cornerstone, a reminder of what was. The old building crumbles away, and yet there I will be (me, my life, our life) like when you were assigned time capsules in school. Remember? You both were in elementary school and were asked what you would take to leave on the moon. And then your children did it again with the turning of the century, and asked us to write a letter about what has changed in our lifetime. Your father wrote a lot! And he even made a timeline about all that had changed about cars and appliances, the telephone and the mail.

I have been writing notes and saving bits and pieces since long before you both were born, my attempt at explaining my life to myself, perhaps. I have so little of my own mother and have spent much of my life yearning for more. This habit of mine, trying to hold on to those days, was simply a way to reassure myself and to recall every detail of her—all I knew of my parents' life together and all I knew of her death. I was afraid of forgetting, a fear that has never diminished, and now I am forgetting things. There's no denying that I am forgetting. We all joke about it at a certain age (you will, too) but there's a line you cross when you don't talk about it in the same way. I am 85 years old, so what do I expect? You're all grown; your children are even grown, so what do we expect? That's what I keep saying to your father: "What do you expect?" We have both already moved past the estimated life expectancy for men and women in this country. We have both long passed the ages our own parents were when they died.

Sometimes, I feel like my life is all laid out before me: dots connecting, patterns shaped and designed, words naming and classifying me. We all have those moments when we are so aware of where we are; there are the moments when we feel graced and blessed, and there are likewise those when we say, "What am I doing here?"

I have tried to imagine my mother on that last night of her life. Surely, she asked, "What am I doing here? Oh God, what am I doing?"

I asked myself that same thing in that empty-feeling car, your father silent behind the wheel, as we got on I-95 and instead of heading north to Gloucester, as we had a million times before, we went south and kept going the rest of the day, neither of us saying much and yet both aware of the sad, questioning cloud hanging over us. And after a restless night at a Holiday Inn somewhere in Maryland, we rode much of the next day, until we got here and met the movers—belongings we had had for years looking so different in the warm, bright light.

Remember how you were here to greet us, Becca? You were our reason for coming, and we are happy to have this time near you and your family, but I still wake some days and think: "What am I doing here?" Even though we have been here for over a year now, I panic, and then I try to rationalize it all, to name the reasons and the benefits of living here. We have followed the migratory path of the snowbirds we once saw as traitors—the weaklings, your father and I called them as we stood armed with our snow shovels and salt. And, yes, ice and cold are hard on brittle bones, and, yes, help is needed when dealing with worn-out hearts and lungs and words that won't come. The love and attention of a child nearby cannot be underestimated—please know we are grateful, Becca. And yet there remain those parts of me that simply refused to come along, and they pull my mind this way and that all day, especially when I'm in here sorting through it all and trying to give it some order. I try to collect and hold on to them, but it is like grasping the wind, and yet those are the parts—what I knew as a child—that seem the truest parts of me.

Home. I hear that word and I am in my bed in Massachusetts. I went to bed as one girl and woke up another. I hear the word "home" and it is 1942, that late dark before I woke to learn that my mother had not come home. Even after all these years, I hear that word and that is where I am transported.

I guess I have always drifted back there, so often that I have memories tucked within memories, like carpool lines, moments of waiting, when something pulled me backward. I recall clearly waiting for Becca during her swim practice those cold early mornings before school, the air smelling of chlorine; there were echoes and splashing and a kind of false warmth when outside it was winter, snow on the ground. And I remember being there, not just once but many times, too hot in my coat but not wanting to shed everything, because the whistles were blowing and it was time for practice to end and the day's work to begin. But I closed my eyes, and there in the dozy haze with the sounds of water, I drifted from our suburban comfort into that second story of my childhood home there on School Street; last I checked, it was still there—a simple wooden house, tan with dark-brown trim, a steep center staircase, and a radiator by the door, where we laid our gloves and scarves.

I can close my eyes and know every square inch. I know the sound of my father's footsteps leaving for his job at Waltham Watch, and then his return in early evening, already dark in the winter months. His movements through life were as precise as the timepieces occupying his days, the close fine-tuning of parts, a focused ability that reassured me but I suspect had the opposite effect on my mother. I remember her standing, hands on her hips and toe tapping. "Tick-tock, tick-tock," she said, moving her hand like a pendulum, impatient to get out and go wherever it was we were going.

I remember hearing them laugh in the room next to mine, leaving me to feel both comforted and left out. My mother's laugh is one I can still hear on a good day, and yet I can't even begin to describe it to you. I tried to imitate it once, alone in the car while I watched the rush of children swarm from your school, and my voice was thin and tinny, nothing like what I was hearing in my head. Still, I place my memory of it there, one to handle as gently as a piece of recording tape. These days, there would be a real recording to keep, but not so for my mother; her voice is only in the heads of those of us who knew her. Now, there is no one who shares this with me.

I remember my bedspread: nubby chenille in a pale yellow with a big, heavy blanket on top of that, the radiator ticking like the Tin Man's heart, like your father's artificial valve. For many years now when I couldn't sleep, I've lain awake there beside him and listened. It's a sound like the radiator of my childhood, the window above it encased in ice, crystals visible in the glow from the light on the corner, where there was a local grocery. I even know the owner's name, Mr. Rosen, his white apron always stained with blood as he leaned across the counter, his smile boyish and funny as he reported neighborhood gossip, who he saw doing what when, while he slipped penny candies into your open palm.

"Earth to Lil," your father would say, or one of you would call, "Mom? Hello?" and I woke to this life, both glad to be in it but also sad to leave that long-ago moment; I would wake, and there you were, Becca, chlorine on your skin and hair, body goosefleshed and shivering, as I wrapped a big towel around you. I remember the moment so clearly, and yet I can't tell you what might have been on my mind that day or what coat I wore during that period of time. It might've been the camel-colored one, or it could have been that red corduroy I wore for so long, the one that led your dad—those times he acted silly (rare times!)—to sing that old song "Hey there, Little Red Riding Hood, you sure are looking good."

It's so clear to me—the laughter, your childhood voices, your father's young face and headful of dark hair—but I can't recall how I felt when I woke that day, what I did after your swim practice, what dance classes I taught that day, or what ancient this or that your father was fixated on and lecturing about at the time. And what did he and I talk about then? The news of the day? The weather? What needed to be fixed? If so, then I can assure you that so much of life never changes.

What I do recall is that while back in my childhood room, I saw my mother's hairbrush; it was simple and plain, so unlike her, just brown boar bristles, and she tossed her head side to side as she brushed and fluffed, the auburn heft of her hair falling chin-length, very fashionable. It was on my dresser, and I was surprised and delighted to see it there. It was there like a promise, because she brushed her hair before bed, 100 times, as she had read somewhere was the thing to do. She would have needed to come back into my room to get it, and I would have heard the door creak on its hinges. I would have seen her there in the dim light of the hallway lamp we left on all night because our stairs were so steep and the landing so small; I could almost see her there. And that is what I remember, straining my eyes against the darkness to see her there, the brush on my dresser, above which the mirror reflected light from the street below.

It's mysterious how fluid time has become for me; I wake and pour a glass and have no idea what I'll find.

We all have those objects that keep us feeling connected to a person or time long gone. For me, it's that hairbrush and my mother's little ivory pin shaped like a Scottie dog, with rhinestone eyes, and the watch my father methodically took apart and then put back together in the nights after my mother died. For your father, it's a toy badge, a box of his father's fishing lures, and his grandfather's stethoscope.

Remember how you loved to play with that stethoscope, listening to your own hearts and the gurgles of your stomachs? Jeff, you loved it so much you wrote a school report in the sixth grade so that your father would have to let you touch it. You loved school reports and projects; so many vinegar-and-baking-soda volcanoes over the years! You loved reading about how the Frenchman who invented the stethoscope did so because he felt uncomfortable pressing his ear up to women's breasts. Remember? You said, "S'il vous plaît open your shirt," in a silly accent modeled after that cartoon skunk. I thought it was funny, but that was the kind of thing your father got impatient and irritated about; he was always much harder on you, Jeff, something I have never understood. Did he want you to be something you weren't? Did he envy that you could be a young man without feeling the weight of the world? I have your yearbooks right here on the shelf, too, and you look so young, hair down in your eyes and that denim jacket you wore all the time.

When I was in high school, our yearbook had a page that said "Faces" with lots of little thumb-sized pictures, and we all very carefully wrote the name of the person under each picture. I was included in one with three other girls: Doris Banks and Lois Starnes and Jean Burr. I still like to look at those girls, the wavy curls with great big bows pinned to the side, a style that seems to have returned, infinite recycling.

Darling Lil, 2 sweet 2 be 4gotten.

That was written so many times in my yearbook, but I suspect it wasn't true at all, both the sweet part and the forgotten. I stayed in touch with many people over the years—through Christmas cards, changes in address, the occasional swapping of birth announcements, and then wedding and retirement, and then the obituaries started rolling in and have continued.

Stay sweet, Cutie-Pie.

My best friend in elementary school was Bettie Conroy; she lived down the street, and I went to her house almost every afternoon after my mother died. Then at some point, it was like I just stopped going, and I don't remember why.

Bettie had a doll I loved, and she would let me hold her if I promised to be very careful—a bridal doll, all white lace and veil. And we roller-skated, our keys on strings around our necks, the scritch-scratch sound of those old metal wheels on the sidewalks. Remember all those times I took you all to Wal-Lex for birthday parties or just on a Saturday afternoon? I always thought about skating with Bettie just a few blocks away. A different time, a different life, and yet it felt like the two overlapped, a double exposure of me in two places.

"What happened to your mother?" Bettie asked one of those days, and though her mother shushed her, she also stopped stirring to listen. We were there in the kitchen because she had promised to let us crack and break the eggs. "I mean did you see her?" Bettie said.

I focused on the recipe her mother had on the counter, something from Woman's Day, a magazine my mother had also sometimes bought. Cheese soufflé, costs 63¢; 6 large servings, the recipe said. Warn the family that the soufflé must be served immediately!

I nodded but gave nothing else; it felt like a betrayal, and I was still harboring the hope that it had all been a terrible mistake, that it wasn't my mother after all.

Maybe that was the last day I spent at Bettie's; I have tried so many times to remember what came next, but I can't, just as I now sometimes look at the Faces page and, even seeing the names written there in my own youthful handwriting, can't place them. Your father often says, "Of course you can't remember! We're old as dirt, Lil," and we laugh.


  • “A moving and deeply appealing novel.”

    “A good novel can perform the same perception-bending trick as a lockdown: slowing time, throwing light on shadowed corners, reminding us of the interdependencies among us that we once took for granted . . . Vibrant, engaging . . . McCorkle, a generous, humane writer, knows that facing death allows us, as this terrible pandemic has, to focus on what is essential: how to take care of our vulnerable, and to appreciate the connections that sustain us.”
    The New York Times Book Review

    “A bard of Southern fiction weaves a layered tale around a married couple who retire from Boston to North Carolina amid a beehive of secrets. A hidden journal, a childhood house, a long-ago fire: All emerge as keys and touchstones in McCorkle’s shimmering prose.”
    O, The Oprah Magazine

    “Jill McCorkle has long been one of our wryest, warmest, wisest storytellers. In Hieroglyphics, she takes us on through decades, through loss, through redemption, and lands in revelation and grace. As always with McCorkle, the story feels so effortless and true that we might well miss what a high-wire act she’s performing. But make no mistake: She’s up there without a net, she never misses a step, and it’s spectacular.” 
    Rebecca Makkai, Pulitzer Prize finalist for The Great Believers
    Hieroglyphics is a novel that tugs at the deepest places of the human soul—a beautiful, heart piercing meditation on life and death and the marks we leave on this world. It is the work of a wonderful writer at her finest and most profound.”
    Jessica Shattuck, author of The Women in the Castle

    “Jill McCorkle at her best—a masterful storyteller noting the complications of life with a heart full of empathy.”
    Garden Gun
    “Wise and tender, Hieroglyphics captures life itself: the experiences that shape us and bind us to one another, and the moments of terror and grace we carry in our hearts. Jill McCorkle's new novel is a triumph.”
    Claire Messud, author of The Burning Girl

    “A thoroughly existential story that inspects mortality, the passage of time and the inadequacies of human communication . . . [McCorkle’s] mastery of words as a vehicle to deliver raw emotions never wavers. Hieroglyphics dwells in nostalgia and the inevitable pain that’s built into the contract of life, but like a good therapy session, it proves rewarding.”
    Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    “The real joy of Hieroglyphics is its intricacy, the pieces of four stories assembled into a mosaic of love and pain and redemption . . . the plain and elegant style pulls the reader through its shifts and counterpoints. You emerge bedazzled, blinking in the bright sunlight of now and carrying the shards of their experiences in your heart. McCorkle is a gracious stylist who hides a whip-smart gift behind her Southern charm. She knows how to tell a good story.”
    Washington Independent Review of Books
    Hieroglyphics is suffused with a deep and heartening understanding of human resilience and strength. A beautiful and emotionally satisfying novel."
    Brad Watson, author of Miss Jane

    “Engrossing . . . McCorkle finds an elegant mix of wistfulness and appreciation for life . . . Throughout, McCorkle weaves a powerful narrative web, with empathy for her characters and keen insight on their motivations. This is a gem.”
    Publishers Weekly, starred review

    "Ingenious . . .Gathers layers like a snowball racing downhill before striking us in the heart with blunt, icy force."
    Kirkus Reviews, starred review

    "A powerful evocation of loss and yearning . . . McCorkle testifies to the ageless nobility of human beings who want the next generation to do better. A deeply moving and insightful triumph."
    Booklist, starred review

    "Demonstrating her widely recognized skill at creating memorable stories out of the stuff of daily life, McCorkle's empathy for a quartet of unassuming but appealing characters provides the foundation for a novel whose drama is modest, but whose insight is deep. Jill McCorkle is an unfussy writer whose storytelling skill almost gives the impression she's simply eavesdropping on her character's lives. It's that quiet talent that makes Hieroglyphics a novel whose appeal will only enlarge in the reader's mind with the passage of time."
    Shelf Awareness

    “No one has a more captivating storytelling style than McCorkle, and her narrative gifts are on full display in Hieroglyphics. As in her previous novel, Life After Life, she does a masterful job of weaving a whole from many parts. Revelations about all the characters arrive slowly, finally reaching a conclusion that is fully satisfying, as soaked in love and sorrow as every human life.”
    “McCorkle is an insightful, skillful writer.”
    New York Journal of Books
    “McCorkle is known for being a funny and astute chronicler of everyday life. Hieroglyphics . . . is a layered and powerful meditation on parenthood, loss and family history, and yet it has the easy feel of an entertaining neighbor spinning a tale on the porch while shelling peas.”
    Savannah Morning News
    “Jill McCorkle’s novels are always worth the wait. That’s certainly true of Hieroglyphics. Few books are so honest and true to life, yet so ultimately uplifting. She’s a master of the art of weaving a story, through just the right details, nuances and anecdotes, for us to decipher as we read.”
    Greensboro News Record
    “McCorkle’s book is deeply layered, deconstructing and reconstructing what it means to be a parent, and what it means to be a child trying to make sense of history and memory.”
    Winston-Salem Journal

    Hieroglyphics is a powerful, deeply moving testament to both the ties of family and the taut fragility of memory's plumb-line. Shelley, Harvey, Lil and Frank felt so real that it seemed as if I had known them for many years; this book stayed with me well beyond the last page.”
    —Daniel Mason, author of The Winter Soldier

On Sale
May 4, 2021
Page Count
336 pages
Algonquin Books


Jill McCorkle

About the Author

Jill McCorkle has the distinction of having published her first two novels on the same day in 1984.  Of these novels, the New York Times Book Review said: "one suspects the author of The Cheer Leader is a born novelist.  With July 7th, she is also a full grown one." Since then she has published five other novels—most recently, Hieroglyphics—and four collections of short stories. Five of her books have been named New York Times notable books and four of her stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories.  McCorkle has received the New England Booksellers Award, the John Dos Passos Prize for Excellence in Literature, the North Carolina Award for Literature and the Thomas Wolfe Prize; she was recently inducted into the NC Literary Hall of Fame. McCorkle has taught at Harvard, Brandeis, and NC State where she remains affiliated with the MFA Program in creative writing and she is core faculty in the Bennington Writing Seminars.

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