Monday, March 16, 2009
Jackie Lee Miles
Synopsis (from B&N, only minus the sections that give the story away)
In 1963 rural Georgia, with the Vietnam War cranking up, pregnant seventeen-year-old Adie Jenkins discovers (note from softdrink: ummm, no...she doesn't discover it...it's lent to her...geesh!) the diary of pregnant seventeen-year-old Tempe Jordan, a slave girl, begun as the Civil War wound down. Adie is haunted by the memory of her dead sister; Tempe is overcome with grief over the sale of her three children sired by her master. Adie—married to Buck, her baby’s skirt-chasing father—is unprepared for marriage and motherhood. She spends her days with new baby Grace. Buck spends his with the conniving Imelda Jane.
Adie welcomes the friendship of midwife Willa Mae Satterfield. Having grown close to her after Grace’s birth, she confides that her baby sister, Annie, survived choking on a jelly bean only to drown in Cold Rock River a few month later. Willa Mae says, “My two little chillins Georgia and Calvin drowns in that river too.” What she won’t say is how and why.
Adie takes refuge in Tempe’s journal. It tells an amazing (amazing? really??) tale:
When “the freedom” comes, Tempe sets out to find her children but never finds them, and she settles in Macon, Georgia, where she meets Tom Barber, a former slave from a Savannah plantation. They marry and have a daughter nicknamed Heart, and though she’s a “bit slow in the head,” they adore her. Tom is good to Tempe, and she remains by his side, ever faithful, until she discovers something she can’t live with—a truth so devastating she vows never to speak of it again.
Adie continues to pore over Tempe’s diary, which seems to raise more questions than it answers. (And this is where I deleted a whole paragraph of spoilers.)
As Cold Rock River comes to its surprising, shocking ending (oh please...you can see it coming a mile away), questions of family, race, love, loss, and longing are loosed from the mysterious secrets that have been kept for too long—and the depth of the mysterious connection between two women united by place and separated by race and a hundred years is revealed.
So. I think the strength in this book is the voice of Adie. Reading Adie's words and about her actions was like listening to my own granny talk and watching her cook. Although my grandmother was born and raised in rural Mississippi, not Georgia, the structure and syntax of Adie's speech was just so evocative of Granny, who was
raised taken in by her sister and treated like the family cook/maid until she married my grandfather...after which she spent her years cooking and cleaning for her husband and three children. Granny was an amazing baker and canner and cook, and reading about Adie's and her mom's and even her sister's, stints in the kitchen brought back memories of when Granny cooked. It also made me hungry.
As for the story itself...well, it was good, but not knock my socks off good. The story of Tempe should come as no surprise, and the happy-ever-after after months and months and months of heartbreak for Adie is also no surprise. In fact, it made for a little too tidy of an ending.