Home is more than where you live. It is where you are loved. It is the place you feel safe, where your fondest memories are created and stored. Home pHome is more than where you live. It is where you are loved. It is the place you feel safe, where your fondest memories are created and stored. Home plays a major role in the creation of your identity. If another place was home, you would be a different version of yourself. The Star Side of Bird Hill is about two sisters, one a preteen and the other a little closer to the verge of womanhood, who are sent from Brooklyn to Barbados to spend a summer with their grandmother. This temporary arrangement is given permanence when their severely depressed mother kills herself. With their father out of the picture, having no parents in their lives means that home is suddenly redefined. But Bird Hill is not what they know nor what they have chosen. It is an idyllic prison cell. The children of Bird Hill are not their true friends. Their grandmother is an unbending woman with strange ways, not the adored woman who raised them. This is not to say that Brooklyn was paradise, for that was where their mother had been vanishing before their eyes by withdrawing into herself as depression took hold. Brooklyn is where their father abandoned them. Barbados is where he makes a surprise reappearance that is difficult to trust. Who they can have faith in is their stalwart grandmother, and she is rooted in an island they knew little of up until now. So Bird Hill is where they will finish becoming the women they are meant to be. Memories happy and sad, at least for the time being, must stay behind in Brooklyn. The new shape of home, including loved ones they have gained and those who have been lost, must be accepted no matter how reluctantly. Passage of time will construct that acceptance. This is a fine debut novel by Naomi Jackson, an author to keep an eye on....more
Attica Locke's prose goes down nice and easy, and her well etched characters draw you into the mysteries they inhabit. This is the second one of LockeAttica Locke's prose goes down nice and easy, and her well etched characters draw you into the mysteries they inhabit. This is the second one of Locke's novels that I've read. I look forward to the third and beyond, regardless of whether she brings us back to the same cast of main characters or introduces us to brand new ones....more
Mat Johnson has a very funny (as in comical) way of looking at the world, perhaps because he grew up with a fair number of people looking at him funnyMat Johnson has a very funny (as in comical) way of looking at the world, perhaps because he grew up with a fair number of people looking at him funny (as in odd). Is he black, is he white? The box you decide to put a person into upon introduction, the label you instantly apply to their existence, shapes the dynamics of the relationship you will have with them. If you're not sure of which box to go with, which label to use, then what is there to guide your first impression? If you're not sure what someone else is, how do you go about being yourself around them? We live in an identity obsessed culture. What are you? Who am I? We are comforted when we can tell at a glance whether someone is a star bellied sneetch or a starless sneetch. But when the truth about someone cannot be discerned by a glance at them, then either they need to forcefully declare what they identity as being, or else we'll do it for them. Loving Day is filled with indelible characters; a line-up of humorous situations; an entertaining blend of reality and unreality; a considerable amount of wry, insightful prose; great compassion; and a handful of ghosts. It is about figuring out that regardless of how clearly our stars can be recognized (thanks for helping me out with this review, Dr. Seuss), it doesn't change the fact that we're all just people put here to find other people to love. Preferably people who will love us in return for whatever the hell we are....more
This book just did not do it for me. I am a fan of Jamaica Kincaid from previous novels so my hopes and expectations were high. Even had they been lowThis book just did not do it for me. I am a fan of Jamaica Kincaid from previous novels so my hopes and expectations were high. Even had they been low, See Now Then still would have fallen short of them. Nothing that I disliked about it is unintentional. It wasn't a case of poor execution. Kincaid wrote this story in the manner that she did with purpose that simply did not appeal to me. The constant repetition of certain words/phrases did little to lull me in. This is a short novel, coming in at under 200 pages. If the repetition was minimized to a more customary amount, the word count of See Now Then probably would not even qualify for novella status. It would have to make due with categorization as a long short story. There is no plot to speak of. Kincaid's goal is not to tell a tale so much as to invoke a mood. The mood is that of hatred. A man hates his wife, his family, his life. We aren't told why specifically, except towards the end when we're informed that the wife was condescending and mean spirited to a waitress. I suppose there is no why. Once you fall out of love with someone and yearn to be with someone else, anyone else, you feel like a prisoner who of course loathes the jailer. But the narrative isn't about the event with the waitress or any other one in particular. It's about a woman being aware that the man she loves does not love her in return, and eventually he does something about it. And it's about the relativity of time, how Now and Then are basically one and the same, a point repeated ad nauseam. We are made aware of the husband's unhappiness from not much after the first sentence - a very long one, as the vast majority of them are, yet another characteristic that I didn't find endearing. The rest of the book serves only to reinforce this point. Gorgeous language can carry a non plot driven story a long way, but I wasn't so swept away by Kincaid's prose that I didn't notice or care that nothing was really happening. Not externally. Not internally. Not at all. I don't care to what degree this or any other novel may be autobiographical. I only care if I was absorbed by the tale, if I came to care about the characters. I was/did not. This is a subjective opinion, as they all are. You may love this book, and if you do, I promise not to hold it against you. :-)...more
I love a good mystery. I was intrigued by the mystery within a mystery concept of this book. I may have liked it even more if the narrative went backI love a good mystery. I was intrigued by the mystery within a mystery concept of this book. I may have liked it even more if the narrative went back and forth following the two connected storylines, alternating between the present and slave days, only not via time travel the way Octavia Butler wonderfully did it in Kindred. The fact that Attica Locke sticks to a single setting is by no means a flaw, and like Octavia, Attica is also an excellent writer. That said, I can't say that I was blown away by this novel. I was thoroughly sucked in to the story, but emerged from it wishing there had been a little more. A little more of what I'm not quite sure. Plausibility perhaps. Things wrapped themselves up a bit too neatly and swiftly for my liking. My favorite type of mystery is the kind that's solved due to brilliant deductive reasoning rather than things (like drunken confessions) falling into one's lap. I especially like when I'm given the same clues and information as the character(s) trying to solve the crime, so I have at least a fighting chance at figuring it out on my own. Deciphering between misleading and critical details is my favorite part of reading a mystery if the author plays fair. I found The Cutting Season to be no better than average in my personal scale of judging a whodunnit, but the quality of writing and depth of characterization was excellent, so I'll certainly give other books by Attica Locke a shot and I would not hesitate to recommend this one. What's a 3-star book to me may be a 5-star book to you, and vice versa....more
FREEMAN is a fantastic book. Readers will highly empathize with the well developed characters. History buffs fascinated by the Civil War time period wFREEMAN is a fantastic book. Readers will highly empathize with the well developed characters. History buffs fascinated by the Civil War time period will be enthralled. Those who take great interest in this nation's troublesome history of race relations will be deeply drawn in, and on numerous occasions will shake their head at the realization that centuries old truths stubbornly remain valid to this day. Those in eternal search for bittersweet love stories should immediately add Freeman to their reading list. The only bone I had to pick with it is that in order for certain events to go the way the author intended them to, there were a couple instances of characters leaving incriminating evidence lying conveniently around, allowing for trails that otherwise would have gone cold to remain hot. I temporarily felt the presence of Leonard Pitts Jr. directing the narrative when this happened. "No way she doesn't toss that newspaper in the fire immediately" I may have said aloud at one point near the end of this riveting story. This is probably the only thing keeping me from going with a 5-star review, but please don't let it prevent you from following up on my recommendation to read this wonderful novel. From its first sentence to the last, it packs a powerful emotional punch. Bravo to a job well done....more
– The divine Toni Morrison has been giving us shorter novels to enjoy lately. As with A Mercy, Home comes in at an unintimidating page count. But in t– The divine Toni Morrison has been giving us shorter novels to enjoy lately. As with A Mercy, Home comes in at an unintimidating page count. But in this novel, in addition to brevity (it can easily be read over the course of a day if you have some spare time) we are also gifted with greater accessibility. Many non-book readers, and non literary fiction readers, steer clear of Toni Morrison because her exquisite use of language does not make for light reading. Her poetic verse can be challenging to those unable/unwilling to sit still and focus. If you have been avoiding her magnificent body of work for these reasons, avoid no more. Home is the book for you. Morrison’s prose, which remains as lush and eloquent as ever, is more straight forward here than in her previous books. Faithful fans will get their fill and I encourage new ones to jump on board. Just don’t expect a leisurely beach read. She has not gone quite that far. A synopsis comes easily, contained in one sentence. A veteran of the Korean War, haunted by blood soaked memories of his time there, returns to his hometown in Georgia to rescue his ailing sister. Along the way, Toni Morrison paints the backdrop of their lives. Cee has spent the majority of hers dependent on the kindness or lack of it displayed by those she encounters via circumstance. Frank comes back to save her life, but in order to claim and do something of worth with it, Cee realizes she must develop her own inner strength. Frank is wrestling too many demons to always reliably be her hero. Much has changed over the course of the years since Frank last set foot in the town where they were raised. Plenty remains more or less the same. Home is there to provide familiar comforts, even though our return to it is inevitably in the form of a different version of ourselves....more
Novelists like Jesmyn Ward don't come along very often. Only truly special writers can slip readers beneath the skin of a character, make them feel asNovelists like Jesmyn Ward don't come along very often. Only truly special writers can slip readers beneath the skin of a character, make them feel as if they are experiencing the events happening on page first hand. Reading Salvage the Bones one is drawn into the oppressive summer heat of Louisiana; aches with helpless desire; is burdened by a stifling sense of loss; vicariously goes through youthful yearning to be loved, even if only as much as a treasured pet. Prior to the arrival of Hurricane Katrina, the pace of the narrative is slow and steady. We wait for the inevitable devastation to arrive, knowing far more about what is to come than the family we're observing up close. A motherless girl lets the local boys take what they please from her until she meets one that she wants something back from. She is a lone woman in a world of men, and it is through her eyes that we pass idle time waiting, watching, remembering, wishing for what is plain will not be, settling for whatever she is able to grab hold of. This girl does not get placed on a pedestal like her brother's prized dog, but like China she is able to nurture when called upon, ready to fight tooth and nail for survival when necessary. Read this book. Then join me in the wait for Jesmyn Ward's next one. ...more
The Taste of Salt chronicles the effects of alcoholism on an African American family. Liquor destroys a marriage that begins with much promise, its grThe Taste of Salt chronicles the effects of alcoholism on an African American family. Liquor destroys a marriage that begins with much promise, its grip not loosening on the father until he has been sent off to make a new life for himself. Their son Tick becomes an alcoholic as well, remaining sober for long enough stretches to set up an enviable situation working on the training staff for a NBA team, but repeatedly losing his battle to take things "one day at a time" and having to start all over again. His sister, like their mother, is not cursed with alcoholism but with having alcoholics as her closest blood ties. Josie copes with the pain and embarrassment by being away from her family. She has a dream fulfilled job as a scientist who studies her beloved ocean far removed from Ohio where her parents and brother reside, and she is married to a good man who treats her with respect and tenderness. In this setting it seems she has escaped the hurt that her parents and brother must endure. But Josie has self destructive tendencies also. She may not need a drink to make it through the day, but her inability to reach true intimacy with the man who has opened his heart completely to her wreaks its own brand of havoc. To survive their separate yet connected hurts, Josie and her brother and parents need to forgive each other and themselves. In clean and easy to read prose, Martha Southgate shows us that not everybody in this often sad world is strong enough to do that....more
Silver Sparrow is an excellent novel written in a sure handed manner by a very talented author. It tells the tale of a bigamist, a man living two sepaSilver Sparrow is an excellent novel written in a sure handed manner by a very talented author. It tells the tale of a bigamist, a man living two separate lives, one out in the open and the other in its shadow. His first family is the result of youthful reckless behavior and following the directions of his mother to make things right. Family number two is formed by falling in love as a grown man, but perhaps one who has not matured very much. After all, a mark of adulthood is understanding you need to make choices, that holding onto one thing often comes at the expense of letting go of another, that if you don't make those choices to your best advantage eventually they will be made for you without allowing you much say in how things work out. This man is at the center of two families but the story focuses on the women in his life - his wives of unequal billing and primarily their daughters who had no say in how their dangerously connected families came about. Over the course of the narrative the half sisters learn that family is not so much a matter of blood, as one of choice of loyalty.
In addition to enjoying Silver Sparrow as a reader I found it to be a particularly interesting read because it addresses matters near and dear to my heart, issues I've examined in short stories, in my first novel Patches of Grey, and in my second yet to be published book, Matters of Convenience....more
Bravo, Edward P. Jones - Bravo! Finished this masterpiece with about 20 minutes left to go in the year 2013. Looking forward to quite a few more greatBravo, Edward P. Jones - Bravo! Finished this masterpiece with about 20 minutes left to go in the year 2013. Looking forward to quite a few more great reads in 2014 but they'll need to be magnificent to share a bookshelf with this one. Reading The Known World put me one step closer to my goal of reading all of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction award winners - http://lineaday.blogspot.com/2009/03/...
Is the question "how (morally) could there have been black slave owners who were formerly slaves themselves?" a predecessor to "why is black on black crime so prevalent?" or "why do some black people (Michael Jackson being an especially well known example) seem to be trying to escape their blackness by cloaking it in what is commonly accepted as whiteness?" or "is the survival Darwin spoke of primarily achieved by looking out for yourself, even if the most effective method of ascension is using your own people to reach and remain at the top?"...more
Simplicity is a powerful weapon, and often times less truly is more. The title of this book serves as partial synopsis. To flesh it out I will add thaSimplicity is a powerful weapon, and often times less truly is more. The title of this book serves as partial synopsis. To flesh it out I will add that Ptolemy Grey is nearly 92 years of age and suffering from dementia that leaves him in a helpless state. He's at the sad stage where he won't even turn off his television or radio which simultaneously play 24/7 because he surely won't remember how to turn them back on. When the grandnephew who visits periodically to check on him is killed and a less good hearted relative replaces him, the final act of Ptolemy's life starts to undergo a transformation. He eventually finds himself with a new roommate who cleans up the pile of filth he lives in without messing with his sacred memories. In fact, his memory and faculties are restored by a doctor's experimental medicine. The medicine is sure to reduce the number of Ptolemy's remaining days but also makes them worth living, allowing him to put his affairs in order, to finish up plans that had been laid to rest, to administer justice as he sees fit, and to remember for awhile what it feels like to love and be loved. This is a beautiful story told by a master craftsman....more
This book seemingly belongs to a byogone era when writers more frequently used elaborate metaphors to make allegorical points about the human conditioThis book seemingly belongs to a byogone era when writers more frequently used elaborate metaphors to make allegorical points about the human condition. Novels such as Catch-22 or The Invisible Man come to mind. The setting is the past (all clues point to mid 20th century New York), yet since it's a version of the past that differs substantially from reality, it also has a futuristic science fiction feel. The somewhat peculiar premise elevates (pun intended) the elevator to mythical status, it's potential literally unlimited, the key to reaching a future that can scarcely be imagined. The alternate universe plot provides us with a thrill ride as the main character (an elevator inspector, first African American woman to attain such an esteemed position) is on the run, trying to prove her good name after apparently being set up to look inept for political reasons, danger lurking at every turn. The imagined politics revolve around one faction that believes the best way to inspect an elevator is by physically examining it, and another that conducts inspections (at a higher success rate) via powers of intuition. If this sounds weird to you that's because it is, and no matter how deeply you may get pulled into the story, it still doesn't really cease to be weird. As with most thrillers, much is not as it first appears to be. Friends turn out be be foes in disguise and those perceived as enemies are not necessarily so. Among the featured cast of characters are ruthless businessmen, ambitious at all costs politicians, university professors and students, and the mob. If you're looking for a novel with action and suspense in it, you'll find a fair share in The Intuitionist. Yet truth be told, the story is neither historical nor science fiction nor action adventure mystery crime noir spy novel. These are merely elements that are used to make a pointed commentary on race in America and our onwards and upwards no matter what culture. Along the way the reader learns plenty of real and fabricated things about elevators and what makes them go. This is a peculiar book, not for everyone, but certainly interesting and compelling while also full of details both personal and technical that keep the narrative at a sure and steady pace rather than racing towards resolution of the mystery. This makes perfect sense since the mystery isn't really the point of the story, just a vehicle used by the author to make his points. ...more
This novel by Chester Himes is basically an example of existentialism old school Harlem style. It may not be for everybody, certainly not for readersThis novel by Chester Himes is basically an example of existentialism old school Harlem style. It may not be for everybody, certainly not for readers who want a clear cut answer at the end of their whodunnits, but I'm pretty sure Kafka and Camus would have approved of Blind Man with a Pistol. Who killed the pants-less man, why did that woman kill that guy, is any one person or organization behind the marches that quickly escalate into riots and looting? Questions such as these are asked, most are not answered definitively. Why not? Because Himes isn't really interested in providing a mystery to be solved. His goal is to make the point that most violence is like a blind man with a pistol, without aim, without strategy, without a point. Tragedies happen because people keep butting into each other. It's the way of the world. I especially liked the final chapter which stands apart from the rest of the book while also representing all that came before it. Personally I would have liked a little more cohesion to the plot, at least one case solved by deductive reasoning. That's a main reason one chooses to read a detective novel after all. But Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones are no ordinary detectives, or at least their situation as representatives of the law but also outsiders to it is unique for a crime novel. One could argue that it's actually a sociological and/or philosophical book masquerading as a cops and robbers tale. Coffin and Grave Digger walk the line between white and black worlds and sometimes you may wonder where their loyalty will lie, but the matter is never truly in doubt. They are honest men whose goal is to do their job as permitted to do it, and to keep alive. Sometimes this allows them to catch a few bad guys. Other times the bad guys have too much pull to be troubled much by the lowest guys in the legal totem pole. No matter. There's always another case to work on, another corpse on their beat, another reason why someone has to die, but never a particularly reasonable one. A blind man with a pistol doesn't really aim, he just points and fires and whoever gets hit goes down. ...more