Tuesday, March 28, 2017

#Collaboreads | Green with Envy

A bookish linkup with friends - #Collaboreads | Green with Envy - A Simpler Grace

I'm jumping back in for another #collaboreads post with Rachel and Kristin. This month's theme is "green with envy" and the book I chose has both the color green on the cover and a plot that revolves around a sugar cane (also green) plantation. Keep reading to see what I thought about this month's novel... because I have soooooo many thoughts.

The Cutting Season
by Attica Locke

The American South in the twenty-first century. A plantation owned for generations by a rich family. So much history. And a dead body.

Just after dawn, Caren walks the grounds of Belle Vie, the historic plantation house in Louisiana that she has managed for four years. Today she sees nothing unusual, apart from some ground that has been dug up by the fence bordering the sugar cane fields. Assuming an animal has been out after dark, she asks the gardener to tidy it up. Not long afterwards, he calls her to say it's something else. Something terrible. A dead body. At a distance, she missed her. The girl, the dirt and the blood. Now she has police on site, an investigation in progress, and a member of staff no one can track down. And Caren keeps uncovering things she will wish she didn't know. As she's drawn into the dead girl's story, she makes shattering discoveries about the future of Belle Vie, the secrets of its past, and sees, more clearly than ever, that Belle Vie, its beauty, is not to be trusted. 

A magnificent, sweeping story of the south, The Cutting Season brings history face-to-face with modern America, where Obama is president, but some things will never change. Attica Locke once again provides an unblinking commentary on politics, race, the law, family and love, all within a thriller every bit as gripping and tragic as her first novel, Black Water Rising. - Goodreads description

What part of the book could you not get enough of?

The writing in this novel was good. It was the first time I read anything from Attica Locke and I was immediately drawn in by her beautiful prose and knack for storytelling. The plot and its historical notes capture you from page one and it flowed seamlessly, albeit a little slowly, throughout the book. The Cutting Season is presented as a contemporary novel but there are two murder mysteries being played out - one current and one from the past - that were fairly suspenseful and keep you turning the pages to figure out what happened.

How did you relate to/care for the characters? What are your thoughts on the plot line and twists and turns?

The characters were very relatable. Caren, our protagonist, is a single mother and operations manager at Belle Vie, a sugar cane plantation-turned-tourist attraction. She has a nine-year-old daughter who has been raised on this plantation and Caren struggles with your typical single parent dilemmas like juggling work and childcare, while also overseeing the operations of the plantation. There were a lot of plot twists and sub-stories that were woven into the main storyline along with historical references that made the book a very interesting read.

What other books are like this one? If none, did it remind you of a particular tv show or movie with its themes and characters? Does it serendipitously line up with things going on in your life or in the news right now?

There aren't a lot of works I could associate this novel with, but there are two books that came to my mind several times while I was reading. The first was The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen. I thought of this because they both took place in the south and the way the atmosphere is described is similar in both novels. You could feel the sticky humidity in the air and hear the crickets chirping at night. Both Locke and Allen have a talent for creating the ambiance in a story.

The second book I was reminded of was The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs. I'm referencing this mainly because the main characters are essentially the same person. In every major event in The Cutting Season, I associated Caren with Georgia Walker from TFNKC. I think this is both because of their circumstances, being single parents and managing businesses while at the same time, holding themselves back in their personal lives, but also because of the writing style. The Cutting Season is a book where all the main point-of-view characters are people of color and TFNKC's Georgia is a woman who has a daughter who is biracial. Both protagonists deal with racial issues in their respective stories, but they handle them quite superficially. It's almost as if the authors didn't want to stir the pot and I really hoped Attica Locke would have done just that and painted a little more depth to her Caren.

You know you judged this book by the cover. What did you think of it? How did it relate to the contents of the novel? And the font and layout of the pages?

I listened to the audiobook, so I didn't have a physical copy of the book to look at, but the book cover represented the story well. The cover art is a photograph of a dirt lane under the canopy of gorgeous hundred-year-old oak trees that line the road. It's the exact scene you'd expect if you were driving up to a historical plantation in the south. The picture is a bit dark and foggy and subtly alludes to the mysterious narrative. 

STARS | ★★★☆☆
Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

I would give this book three stars. It was a good read and very entertaining but there is a major flaw. I originally chose this to fill the "book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color" slot in the Read Harder Challenge and while it does, indeed, fill that spot, it barely grazes the surface of black culture in the south. I don't know if Locke wanted to keep the racial aspect at a distance to make the novel more accessible to readers who don't typically pick up a lot of work by people of color or if she just wanted to keep the novel lighthearted, but I'm a bit sad.

This would be a great book for someone who is new to reading literature from an author of (or about people of) color because it's not in your face. I so wanted it to be in my face, though. There is a scene in which a young black male employee at the plantation is arrested for suspicion of murder with little evidence to support the charge and it's just accepted by everyone because that's the way it's done. Upon questioning the justification for his arrest and getting a little push-back from the detective, everyone backs off. This kid is even convinced to accept a plea bargain even though he wasn't guilty. I wanted them to fight! I wanted to feel what it's like to be black and facing the various challenges they encounter in this novel where race is clearly a condition but it's not brought up.

Perhaps I'm a bit jaded after reading Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in which she slaps you across the face with African American culture. I wanted this book to slap me and I'm disappointed that it didn't. It was an entertaining novel but not one I'd recommend for a lesson in black culture.

What book are you reading right now?

This post is part of the #Collaboreads linkup with Rachel and Kristin. For more info on how you can participate, visit Rachel's page for details.

The post #Collaboreads | Green with Envy first appeared on A Simpler Grace. If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it with your friends!

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