By Bernice L. McFadden
Published: Plume; 2001
Synopsis: Bernice L. McFadden's first novel begins with the brief, poetic description of a crime so startling that the reader is helplessly drawn in, as if a bright red door stood ajar on a bleak and forbidding house. Pearl Taylor's daughter, Jude, has been found murdered and mutilated near a field at the edge of town. "The murder had white man written all over it," writes McFadden. "But no one would say it above a whisper. It was 1940. It was Bigelow, Arkansas. It was a black child. Need any more be said?" In the years that follow, Pearl catches sight of Jude in so many strangers that when Sugar Lacey comes to town and sets up her unwholesome "business" in the house next door, she doesn't know whether to believe what she sees in Sugar's face: a striking similarity to Jude, dead 15 years. In her sedate but supple prose--rising at times to a light, unforced lyricism in the description of landscape or character--the author perfectly renders the closed and protective society of a small Southern town, the superstitions, gossip, and prying. Although the men of Bigelow are happy enough to have Sugar around, the women do their best to drive her off. Only Pearl is drawn to Sugar, managing to look beyond the rumors surrounding her new neighbor, whose dismal life, she tells Pearl, "had no crossroads."
My Take: This is one of those books that I think will take some time to really sink in for me but I am so glad I read it. I won it from Gerbera Daisy Diaries and had I not it is probably one of those great stories that would have passed me by. Thank goodness it didn't! Even though it is pretty short at less than 250 pages, it packs such a punch.
Within it you have the heartwrenching loss of a mother, Pearl Taylor, where the story opens with the brutal murder of her daughter. Being that it was the South in 1940 and the crime was committed by a white man, justice was never brought for this family and it was never really expected that it would be, even though they find out who did it. Can you even imagine living with that?
Pearl is broken when Sugar comes to town. Sugar looks like her daughter Jude but is like her in no other way because of her "business" (wink wink). The town wants to get rid of her but Pearl and her husband treat her kindly and really show a message of not judging a book by its cover and Sugar helps to heal Pearl and Pearl helps to heal Sugar. It's a really beautiful story even though its often covered with such brutal, dark overtones.
I also thought it was interesting that Ms. McFadden named Sugar, Sugar. I mean she is a prostitute. I don't know if I am reading too much into it but for a lot of the book she was anything but sweet. She was raised without a mother and she said that she had no reason to know not to do what she'd been doing for a living and was never apologetic for her life. Yes, she was nice to Pearl but for the majority of her life, mmm, not so much. Just thought it was an interesting name choice and I'm thinking it was deliberate.
I guess since I don't normally read books that verge on these kinds of darker storylines I found it really interesting and it's always good to get me out of my comfort zone in the reading world! I wanted to root for Sugar so much. It was one of those books you really want to read with other people so you can discuss it with them!
(I won a copy of this book)