Like so many other books coming out even this year, this book is an awkward cousin to The Tempest. Miranda is Mama Day, the late-aged healer of the island “Willow Springs” on the border between South Carolina and Georgia.
This is a book chock full of characters named for Shakespeare denizens, like Ophelia, Miranda, Cicero, and George. It’s kind of a Caribbean book, but more so has the history and taste of Gullah islands, retaining a lot of its Americanness.
The novel is told from three main perspectives: a third person account that traces the action of Willow Springs with Mama Day and her sister Abigail as its main focus. Mama Day, though Miranda, is a kind of Prospero character, using her magicks to pull Ophelia back to the island. Rather than dealing with a need for betrayal, the conjure woman is trying to right an imbalance.
The other perspectives include a back and forth between two lovers cum spouses. Ophelia, or Cocoa in Willow Springs, writes to George, her future and present husband, of the ins and outs, and faults and follies of their courtship and marriage. As the novel progresses, George is afforded his own chapters who also writes in the first person, but clearly addressing Ophelia with his take on things.
This novel claims on the back to be timeless, but I can’t help but feel that it’s quite dated in its sentiment and ethos. This is clearly the New York City of the 80s, of a kind of middle-class bourgeois concern over good restaurants and the dating scene, with things being faxed etc. Also, there’s this atonal discussion of football as a throughline.
For what it’s worth, I found the George and Ophelia sections to be much better than the Mama Day sections, which was often nonsensical, but the Mama Day sections were the part of a much better novel. It just took place in the wrong century I think.