CBR11 BINGO: History Schmistory (BINGO! Reading the TBR corner to Summer Read corner)
Set in the American south in the 1920’s, this novel fits nicely into the “History Schmistory” square. Just a generation into rebuilding after the civil war and shortly after a boll weevil infestation ruins the cotton industry, the inhabitants of a small South Carolina town and it’s outskirts are scrambling to make ends meet. The novel is told through the voices of three very different women: a first generation free black woman, the matriarch of the town’s wealthiest family, and a battered and impoverished white mother. The story, however, is more about what they have in common than what separates them.
A successful business owner in her own right, Annie Coles is still dominated by an ambitious husband who would destroy her successful business to further his own disintegrating one. Gertrude, a mother of four young girls, lives under the constant threat of abuse from her alcoholic husband. The Coles’ cook, Retta, is a free woman still living under the yoke of servitude and maneuvering in a dangerous and deeply segregated culture.
In order to save herself and the lives of her children, Gertrude leaves her very sick youngest daughter with Retta for a few days. This single act sets into motion a chain of events that eventually unearths a devastating family secret. The aftermath of this secret will reverberate through the lives of all three of the women.
Spera delivers a well-written character driven novel about female relationships and motherhood. Each of the characters is very clearly drawn and Spera creates such distinctive voices for each. Set just four years after women are able to vote and little more than half a century after slavery is abolished, Retta, Annie and Gertrude struggle to make their own way in a white male dominated world. It’s a tough little book about finding resilience, bravery and love in the most unexpected places.