My Book World
This tremendous first novel seems at once both realistic and impressionistic in its articulation. The former because Jones’s portrayal of slave life in the nineteenth-century American South stinks with human toil and sweat, both black and white: “Mississippi only knew how to be hot and sticky” (27). The only relief may be the Biblical-like Yazoo River’s coolness. The novel is impressionistic in large part because it is as nonlinear as a novel can get: there are slave ancestors, the lives of a female king, whose descendants populate this hot and sweaty setting. If readers think this is only a novel about two young male slaves who have “grown up” together on the Halifax plantation (slaves call it “Empty” or “That Fucking Place”) and become lovers at a young age, may they soon discover their mistake. Single chapters are devoted to various characters within this “kingdom” of depraved corruption of Capitalism. Slaves tell their own truth. Owners live out their own truths: their indifference to pain (except their own), their greed, their ultimate unhappiness brought on by the shame and disgust they must feel (deep inside and unrecognized) at the mistreatment of fellow human beings.
In this book, sex between Samuel and Isiah isn’t sex but a stunning line of poetry that indicates what has happened: their red-and-white barn is an Edenic setting for their love. You sense the act has taken place but it is communicated with ease and subtlety. Neither is the sex graphic, nor is it quotidian, like, say, John Cheever’s Then they rolled over and went to sleep.
I believe I shall read this novel again and again. More than ever, white people need to wake up and see what a terrible blight slavery has been on our country’s history, how its stories cripple our present and our future if we fail to deal with slavery's legacy. Jones’s novel opens wide a window into our history by way of a beautiful and savage piece of art that will only unfold more as time passes.
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