Thursday, December 27, 2012
REVIEW: The Cutting Season by Attica Locke
Genre: Literary Mystery, Southern Fiction
Summary: Caren Gray is a strong, educated African American woman and a single mother. She has mixed feelings about managing Belle Vie, the sprawling plantation where she grew up and where her ancestors were once slaves. Despite the unease that the former slave cabins instill in her, she feels tied to the place. But when an immigrant sugar cane worker is found dead on the edge of Belle Vie and Caren decides to launch her own investigation, all of her latent misgivings are stirred up again. And even as centuries-old secrets from the past rise up from the past, in the present Caren begins to fear that her nine-year-old daughter may know more about the murder than she's telling.
First Line: It was during the Thompson-Delacroix wedding, Caren's first week on the job, that a cottonmouth, measuring the length of a Cadillac, fell some twenty feet from a live oak on the front lawn, landing like a coil of rope in the lap of the bride's future mother-in-law.
A nuanced mystery with gothic undertones, Attica Locke's second novel (after Black Water Rising) is far more than a typical whodunit. The atmospheric Southern setting and eerie history of slavery permeate the plot, adding depth and weight to the story. Issues of race, class, and history are key, but these themes are seamlessly and subtly integrated into the plot rather than a carelessly tacked on "moral."
Attica Locke's writing is stellar, descriptive and even poetic at times: "[B]eneath its its loamy topsoil, the manicured grounds and gardens, two centuries of breathtaking wealth and spectacle, lay a land both black and bitter, soft to the touch, but pressing in its power." However, I did not find the characters quite as captivating as the setting. I had a bit of a struggle warming up to Caren, who is a bit of a mystery herself. I appreciated that she is a strong but flawed woman, and I was pulling for her 100%, and yet, for me, she remains distant throughout the novel.
But despite my quibbles (and, if you haven't noticed by now, I almost always have quibbles), I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The linkage of past and present, along with the blending of history, social issues, and various relationship issues make for a complex and satisfying read.