Sunday, January 13, 2013

Gathering of Waters by Bernice McFadden (2012)

I got this copy of Gathering of Waters by Bernice McFadden (2012) through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program early in 2012 and I'm sad it took me so long to read it. Luckily, it got its chance when the book I'd just started was way too big to take with me in my carry-on bag on a recent plane trip, and Gathering of Waters was just the right size. I started the book at 4:30 in the morning at the Austin airport and finished it at two in the afternoon in the plane on the way to my final destination.

Gathering of Waters centers on the infamous 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi by two white men after they say he whistled a white woman at the grocery. Instead of being weighed down by the heavy history of her centerpoint, McFadden's novel creates a structure that is epic and small, spiritual and humorous, and that acknowledges the evil that exists in humanity while resolutely turning away from it.

The book starts in the early 1900s where a young girl in Oklahoma named Doll is possessed by the spirit of a murdered prostitute. Her mother unsuccessfully tries to exorcise the spirit and gives her daughter to the local pastor to raise as part of his family. Things are fine for several years, but when the spirit awakens in Doll, she seduces the pastor, breaks up the home, and the new family ends up moving to Money, Mississippi. We then follow Doll, her daughter Hemmingway, and her husband and son (along with the parallel story of a white family in the same town whose fate is intertwined with Doll's) through a rocky life leading up to the deadly flood of 1927. Eventually we make it to the 1950s where Hemmingway's daughter, Tass, has a crush on Emmett Till, the outspoken boy from Chicago who is in Mississippi visiting his uncle. And we even move further along to the present day as Tass marries, has a family, and ages and the spirit of Emmett finds her again.

This isn't a book that I feel I can do justice with a simple plot description since there is so much more to it than what happens. McFadden's writing style is the perfect mix of plain and poetic, and the easy incorporation of spiritual and magical elements into everyday life is reminiscent of Toni Morrison in all the best ways. I really liked this one.

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