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Pick of the Week
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 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.” Eventually Pearl shows Sugar the ballerina-topped jewelry box in which she keeps snapshots of her dead daughter.
Slowly, the secret connections between Jude and Sugar unfold against a backdrop of suspense and the return of violence. This is an ambitious and feeling debut from a promising writer.
–Regina Marler (Amazon.com Review)