Monday, March 29, 2010
Glorious review and giveaway
It begins in 1910, in Georgia, when Easter Bartlett’s family is splintered by an act of racist violence that eventually leads to her leaving. She makes her way through a world that changes rapidly in some ways and stays the same in others, but one constant remains – her writing. Until even that is taken away.
I thought I would enjoy Bernice L. McFadden’s novel Glorious more than I actually did. A vivid background and a disadvantaged writer for a heroine drew me in, as did the gripping prologue. That’s told in a series of “if” paragraphs : if the black man hadn’t won the public fight, there wouldn’t have been so much ill-feeling towards the black community; if Easter’s father hadn’t bet on that man, he wouldn’t have had the money to buy his daughters new dresses, and so on.
It draws both the family and the reader inexorably deeper. And since I’m the kind of person who does a lot of if-onlying after tragedies, I could identify.
But the rest of the book doesn’t live up to that start. Easter leaves what remains of her family and goes to work for a rich white woman who nurtures her love of books, but she’s forced to leave again. She joins a traveling vaudeville act, waiting on one of the star performers, an older woman called Rain.
Then she leaves and works as a schoolteacher before a scandal puts an end to that. Then she leaves for first Virginia and then New York. It gives the book an episodic feeling with no overarching plot to bind everything together.
There wasn’t one thing she owned that hadn’t belonged to someone before her, not a thread of clothing or a pair of shoes… But her stories didn’t belong to anyone else.
Easter’s writing might have been that plot – if I had read any of it. One problem with making the protagonist a writer is that the readers will expect to see some evidence of the craft, especially if the protagonist is described as producing “beautiful” or “glorious” fiction. Stephen King does this with Thad Beaumont in The Dark Half and Paul Sheldon in Misery, but I only read one line written by Easter in this novel.
Time is a tireless bird with silver feathers and broad wings.
It wasn’t enough. Each time I was told how good Easter’s writing was, it emphasized the fact that I wasn’t being shown that.
As for Easter as a character, she often reacts to the shocking incidents she sees rather than being active, though for other readers, that may contribute to the novel’s realism. She also tended to be overshadowed by other, more colorful and sometimes actual people such as Langston Hughes.
Plus, the name “Easter” reminded me of the heroine’s mother in Alex Haley’s Queen, and Rain was a bit like Shug Avery in The Color Purple. Both are older, sexually experienced women who are fond of the heroines despite their very different characters and lifestyles.
In summary, this book has an ambitious theme – what happens to a dream deferred, and to the holder of such a dream? For me, the story didn't quite live up to the theme, but other readers might enjoy it.
Bernice McFadden generously sent me a copy of Glorious to review, and if you'd like a chance to read this book, she's also giving away two autographed copies. If you live in the USA, Canada or UK, you're eligible... just leave a comment to this post with your email address.
The giveaway will end on April 15, 2010, and I'll randomly pick two winners and email them. Thanks for reading, and good luck! (ETA : Original date was April 12, contest extended for three days, ends tomorrow)