Friday, June 21, 2013

Review: Nowhere Is a Place by Bernice L. McFadden

Last year was the first time I'd ever read anything by Bernice McFadden. I picked up her very different for me, surprisingly engrossing novel Gathering of Waters. Knowing how much I enjoyed that one made me curious to see how I would fare with Nowhere Is a Place and encouraged me to pick it up off the shelves sooner than I might have otherwise. My first reaction to finishing this book was "Wow." Then some of the imperfections came into clearer focus but that initial gut reaction is one I always search for, rare and exciting as it is.

Sherry and her mother Dumpling have had a rather fraught relationship, riddled with misunderstandings and misconceptions, for much of Sherry's life. In fact they are all but estranged as the novel opens with Sherry, embarking on a new, hopefully healthy relationship, unexpectedly pregnant, and living in Mexico far from the judgments of her mother. So it's unusual that Sherry has offered to drive her mother to a family reunion across the country, to willingly trap herself in a car with Dumpling for so many days and hours on end. Except that Sherry is writing a book about her family's history, one that is both ordinary and unique in the past history of Native and African Americans dating back four generations of Sherry's family and into the time of slavery, and it is this history, which she's mining for her book, that will help her to discover who she is in relation to her mother and as a person in her own right and to capture and accept the happiness she is so doggedly pursuing.

The novel jumps back and forth in time from past history as recounted through Sherry's novel narrative to the modern day road trip she and her mother are taking. In both instances, secrets will be uncovered and motivations revealed that changed the trajectory of both Sherry's and Dumpling's lives and allow them to come to an understanding and appreciation, even if it is sometimes a frustrated understanding, of each other. The primary question Sherry has for her mother is why Dumpling slapped her across the face so many years before. And although she works towards this answer, it is not ultimately the driving force of the novel. The historical portions of the tale are. From the young Native American girl named Nayeli captured, sold into slavery, and renamed Lou, through the indomitably brave Suce and the captivating man-eater Lillie, to Dumpling and middle child Sherry, this is a story of endurance and strength, horrors and secrets, mother/daughter relationships, and ultimately, mother love in all of its imperfections.

Although the novel as a whole is well-written, the viscerally written historical portions of the narrative are much more compelling reading than the present day wrangling and silences between Dumpling and Sherry. And the secret of why Dumpling smacked Sherry as she sat in her great-uncle's lap is not even close to the secret it is purported to be, at least to the reader. Why Sherry never figured it out herself, instead of letting it fester and affect her relationship with her mother so badly is curious and then, given the weight of it all through the narrative, too easily remedied in the end after their journey together. Despite these minor missteps, this is a provocative and enthralling read, one that will force readers to think long after the book covers close for the last time.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.

1 comment:

  1. I love this author ... I have to pick up her two latest, but ...I love her ... and I'm happy to see that she is STILL pumping out novels that make you feel.


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