Sunday, December 28, 2008

Secrets Abound in Pitch-Perfect Southern Novel

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Every family has its secrets - skeletons shoved inside closets, ugly truths hidden behind concealing smiles, damning evidence blocked from memories. But what happens when the skeletons creep out of their closets? What happens when suppressed memories resurface? What happens to the family whose lies can no longer be contained? Adie Jenkins, heroine of J.L. Miles' Cold Rock River, is about to find out.

Adie is 7 when her little sister drowns in Cold Rock River, a tragedy that tears her family apart. Her father drinks away his sorrow, while her mother grows more and more distant from her remaining children. No one will talk about little Annie, and Adie doesn't want to think about her own part in the nightmare that stole her sister's life. Besides, she has another life to think of now - the one that's growing inside her.

It's 1963. Adie is 17 and pregnant. She has little choice but to marry Buck Jenkins, the father of her baby. Unfortunately, he comes with a sharp-tongued mama and not much else. Despite the long hours he spends working at the Five, Dime & Penny (in the company of the owner's pretty daughter), Buck's not much of a provider. Luckily, Adie's got enough pluck to save herself and her baby. She finds a shack to rent, scrubs it down and settles in, determined to keep Buck in his own bed by playing the perfect wife. Before she knows it, she's also a mama to sweet Grace Annie.

Adie's plan doesn't find a lot of success, but life's at least bearable thanks to several key people: Murphy Spencer, her kind-hearted neighbor, whose constant aid seems motivated by something more than just neighborliness; Willa Mae Satterfield, Murphy's sassy surrogate mother; and Tempe Jordan, a slave girl, whose diary Willa Mae loans to Adie. Although the girls are separated by 100 years, Adie relates to Tempe's hard-scrabble life. Reading Tempe's words brings solace to Adie, who's struggling with an unfaithful husband, a scheming mother-in-law, a chicken herd gone wild, and the sweet, forbidden love that dances just out of reach. As if that wasn't enough, long-suppressed images seem to be taking over Adie's mind - images that suggest she was directly responsible for her sister's death. Secrets - from her family, Buck's, even Murphy's - threaten to rip her apart. When brave Adie finally demands the truth, it changes the way she sees everything - and everyone - in her life. Some secrets she learns too late, and some just in time, to save herself and the people she loves. "Secrets," she says

are like stories. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end. They're short, or long or in between, and they all take on a life of their own. Some go on and on, when you'd rather they not. You can close the book anytime, but it doesn't mean you are finished. And you may think you know where they are going, but you never know for sure until you get to the end and unravel it. (264)

This is a story about the unraveling, and the almost irreperable destruction caused by secrecy and lies.

From the first line of Cold Rock River ("I was five that Spring Annie choked on a jelly bean" [11]) the reader gets sucked into Adie's tale of life in rural Georgia during the tumultuous '60s. She narrates with humor and a naivete that will endure her to all readers. Tempe's voice is just as compelling, perhaps even more so as she describes her "Massah" selling her children, children he sired himself, away to a slave trader. The women's voices speak in perfect harmony as they talk of sorrow, injustice and the dangerous secrets every family hides. Despite these things, their stories radiate strength, hope and healing. Suffused with Southern softness and humor, this is a beautiful story about truth, lies and the ever-conquering power of the human spirit. I couldn't put it down.

Grade: B+

3 comments:

  1. This does sound like a good one, Susan. Very moving. Thank you for the great review.

    I hope you have a Happy New Year!

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  2. This is on my TBR shelf. I'm so glad to see you enjoyed it. :)

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  3. It looks good. It makes me think of how boring life was at the Kennedy home growing up! lol

    hey I got my copy of Elle magazine yesterday. Harmony was like, "well what are you going to do with the rest of the magazine?" Hmmm...good question. But it was fun to see you in there!

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