“It never fails,” Montrose said. “No matter what they do to you, afterwards it’s like nothing happened. You’re supposed to just be grateful you’re still breathing.”
Upon receiving a letter from his estranged father, Atticus Turner returns to his hometown to discover his father missing. He and his uncle George follow the trail to Ardham, Massachusetts, where, with the help of their hometown friend Letitia, they learn secrets about Atticus’s late mother’s family history, and how he and his family could be the keys to unlocking an arcane power that has lain dormant for centuries.
This book is told as a series of single-character stories, similar to classic horror and science fiction anthologies. Taking place in 1954 and 1955, we follow Atticus, his family, and his close friends as they navigate the supernatural while barely escaping from the daily attacks they endure simply by existing as African-Americans in 1950s America. This is where the true horror comes in. I do not think of this as a horror anthology but, with settings such as sundown towns, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, during the 1921 attack on Black Wall Street and resulting massacre, the despicable, vile, and heinous acts (not to mention laws), are laid out so plainly that any hint at the supernatural is unimportant in comparison.
The structure of the book, of presenting each chapter from a different character’s point-of-view, is both its strength and its weakness. While I enjoyed the classic anthology structure, as it reminded me of the supernatural books I read growing up, it made it difficult for me to remain engaged. The story did bring everyone together in the end, but it felt like an afterthought since each chapter could exist completely independently from the others.
The story of Hippolyta, the amateur astronomer turned road warrior, was by far my favorite. It also was the most far-fetched story in a book of unbelievable tales. If the following passage resonates with you, I encourage you to seek out this book and read her chapter.
She wasn’t a student. Even if there had been money for college, majoring in astronomy would not have been a practical option. For a while she tended a fantasy of becoming an astronomer without a college degree. But when she confided her ambition to a guide at the Hayden Planetarium, he dismissed it with four simple words: “You are a Negress,” he said.
Hippolyta’s nine-year-old self wouldn’t have taken no for an answer, but with adolescence, she’d undergone a drastic change. She’d sprouted up seemingly overnight, becoming a giantess as well as a Negress, and the increase in mass had brought a corresponding increase in inertia, a willingness to accept, often without protest, the limits placed upon her. Visiting relatives commented on how withdrawn Hippolyta had become, though they guessed wrong about the cause, her grandmothers and aunts muttering worriedly about boy trouble. Hippolyta in those days might have been game for some boy trouble – might have done something very stupid – but the boys she knew were intimidated by her size and either mocked or ignored her.
One other side effect of her growth spurt was that she learned how to sew. What mechanical talent she had – talent that in another life might have been applied to grinding telescope lenses – was directed, in this one, to making clothes that would fit her.
The main takeaways I got from the stories were, for one, I really want to read up on the Tulsa race massacre, sundown towns, and the history and impacts of Jim Crow between its inception and today. I also want to read stories from a broader range of authors and across a wider range of subject matter. While supernatural and SciFi are firmly in my wheelhouse, I’m eager to seek out different perspectives. Recommendations are very welcome!
This is also the book that has been sitting on my bookshelf for the longest. I’m marking this for CBR Passport under books I already own.