From Publishers Weekly
McFadden's Sugar and other titles remain key recent novels of black women's search for, and claiming of, origins; this flawed but engrossing multigenerational saga takes its place among them. Pregnant and chronically "displaced" at 38, Sherry sets off with her mother, Dumpling, on a road trip from Nevada to a family reunion in Georgia. Along the way, she presses the reluctant Dumpling for family stories, intending to write a history as a project of self-discovery. The road trip sections are perfunctory, but Sherry's transformations of Dumpling's stories—creating a book-within-a-book reaching back 150 years—are terrific. One memorable section relates how a group of slaves cannily manages to take over the plantation from its deranged master; a later section tells of Dumpling's mother, Lillie, who fled Georgia for a wild life in Philadelphia; a puzzling slap Sherry received from Dumpling at a family get-together is also eventually explained. With her deep engagement in the material and her brisk but lyrical prose, McFadden creates a poignant epic of resiliency, bringing Sherry to a well-earned awareness of her place atop the shoulders of her ancestors, those who survived so that she might one day, too. (Feb.)
Bernice gives an overview of the book:
From Publishers Weekly
Santa Rey Obius, Mexico
Edison Powell, all confidence with a smile that revealed glittering white teeth. Brunette eyes that sparkled and long piano playing fingers.
Jazz standards where his favorite.
They’d first met over the music, Count Basie’s “Going to Chicago Blues” spilling out from beneath his fingers, her eyes dead set on his jaw, not blinking, not wanting to miss the clench and unclench of it or the sudden toss of his head.
Curiosity killed the cat, she murmured into her third glass of chardonnay, after her girlfriends caught her staring at his clenching and unclenching jaw and the way she trembled when he tossed his head was a dead giveaway that she was more than interested.
Her friend whispered to her from behind cupped palms, egged her, dared her, prodded her forward with their goading until she found herself almost at his elbow, sandwiched between two women that smelled of vodka and Chanel.
He was on to “Kansas City Keys;” and Sherry was bobbing her head to the music and wondering what it would be like to have those piano playing fingers dancing across her rib cage and down her spine and then wondering why it was she was wondering such a thing.
The crowd hollered for more but brunette eyes shook his head no and then turned toward his audience and graciously bowed his head into praying hands before he smiled and turned to where Sherry swayed between the vodka and Chanel smelling women.
They rushed him, the women with their Colgate white teeth ruined by tracks of red lipstick, thrusting cosmetically altered breasts in his face while simultaneously presenting him with delicate hands, perfectly manicured fingernails and diamond laced wrists. He nodded at them, but kept his own hands folded behind his back.
Nodded and smiled at their compliments, favored them with his smooth talk, electric smile and brunette colored eyes, but would not let them touch his piano playing fingers, those he kept hidden behind his back, stuffed into the wells of his pants pockets or laced together and swaying in front of his crotch.
“Do you know Cherry Point?” Was all Sherry said to him when he was finally able to break away from the women and was sliding past her.
He’d given her a sideways glance, and something about her caught him, so he turned around to give her his full attention. “Cherry Point,” she said again when all he did was stare.
“Yes,” smooth as silk sailed out of his mouth and then a smile and a nod of his head. He watched her for a while, before he said yes to something else and then turned and started back towards the piano, brushing past the women and their frozen smiles and settled himself back down onto his bench.
He positioned his piano playing fingers over the black and white keys, spoke to them with his mind, wiggled them and then dropped them down and began to play Cherry Point, twice.
Later, after his piano playing fingers played Avenue C and Blue Room Jump and April in Paris down her spine, and across her rib cage, after he treated her nipples like the lip of a trumpet, played her ass like a Djembe drum and stroked the inner parts of her thighs like a Sitar until the muscles went soft like cream and gave way and her legs parted until they were flung wide, revealing her very own Cherry Point.
And it wasn’t until he lay sleeping beside her, his arm thrown across her breasts, that she realized that his eyes were the same color as her nipples and areola around it. She realized as the sun broke through the slats of the mini blinds that he had used Count Basie to seduce her and that the clenching and unclenching jaw had reminded her of the pro ball players that mesmerized her and that the toss of his head made her think of easier times and that all of that and the chardonnay had somehow blinded her to the fact that he wasn’t just a man, but a white man.
It was as easy as pie to get on a plane and fly from St. Louis to Paradise Nevada to tell her mother, Dumpling, that she was moving to Chicago, moving into a one bedroom overlooking the river with her friend, her boyfriend, Edison Powell, the musician with brunette colored eyes and piano playing fingers.
Dumpling had nodded and grunted before finally looking real hard at the picture of the boyfriend that couldn’t find the time to get on the plane with her daughter and meet her face to face.
Blond hair, brown eyes. White boy. Sherry hadn’t said a word about that part of him.
“He knows all of Count Basie and can play most anything.” Sherry had gushed.
“You too it seems.” Dumpling huffed and handed the picture back to her. “If your daddy were alive you know he’d disapprove.” She added, hard toned.
Sherry ignored the words, how could Dumpling know what those fingers did to her?
And if her father were alive, he wouldn’t have understood it either, he was a diehard Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters man. But he was dead and buried, ten years by then, that’s why it was easy as pie to hop on that plane from St. Louis to Paradise Nevada and announce the plans for the rest of her life in Chicago, with a white man.
“He’s the blackest white boy I’ve ever met.” Sherry said brightly. “Not like those white folks you thinking about at all Dumpling.”
“Cool and laid back. He understands the struggle –“
“Oh Dumpling, I can’t help who I love.”
“You never have been able to.”
“What does that mean?”
“You always choose wrong, that boy with the lisp from....where was it now?”
“Manuel from South America.”
“Yeah, the other one with the slanted eyes.”
“And the one with the turban.”
“I told you none of them would last didn’t I?”
“You taught me to see people for who they are on the inside.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Well, that’s what I’m doing.”
“So you been seeing this man for how long?”
“And you think you know his heart?”
“You and daddy got married in less than two months why is this different?”
“Your daddy was black.”
“I know’d his heart from before I even know’d him.”
“How is that possible?”
“All us black people here in America got the same heart. We come from the same place.”
“What are you talking about Dumpling? Do you mean the South?”
“I’m talking ‘bout a place called survival.”
“I’m well aware of our history Dumpling. It’s not like I went out looking for a white man –“
“Nah, he came looking for you. That’s what they do.”
“White people marched along side blacks for civil rights.”
“Okay Dumpling, whatever you say. I was hoping that you would be happy for me and –“
“Okay, let me ask you this, did you choose him or did he pick you?”
“Did you choose or did he pick?”
“I don’t know what –“
“White folks been picking niggers for years. Picking them off, picking them clean-“
Bernice L. McFadden is the author of seven critically acclaimed, award-winning bestselling novels; including the classics Sugar and The Warmest December which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and was lauded as "Searing and expertly imagined" by Nobel Laureate,...