Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Nowhere is a Place by Bernice McFadden (2006)

About a year ago, I read a copy of Bernice McFadden's book Gathering of Waters (reviewed here) through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, and really loved it. Lo and behold, another McFadden book has come my way from the same source: Nowhere is a Place (2006).

The framing story here is a road trip with Sherry and her mother, Dumpling, from Dumpling's home in California to a family reunion in Georgia. Sherry is in her late-30s, secretly pregnant, coming out of a bad long-term relationship with a white man that her mother never liked, and living in Mexico after years of searching and globetrotting.

Sherry and Dumpling aren't that close, but at the start of the road trip, Sherry tells her mother that she wants to write a novel about their family history and the heart of the book are the words that Sherry writes each night after hearing her mother retell the family stories and that Dumpling reads and reacts to the next day.

The family story is rich, deep, and tragic. Starting from the massacre of an Indian village and the kidnapping and selling of the children into slavery, moving through rape, brutality, love, marriage, and heart break, heading north and cutting loose, and eventually ending right back in the car with Sherry and Dumpling. Much like Gathering of Waters, a simple plot description doesn't do this story justice. McFadden has a perfect sense of timing and description, and the hard-earned bursts of violence and revenge hit the reader just right.

This is a re-issue of a novel from several years ago, and it shares the same delicate balance between poetry and a harsh narrative that I found in the more recently published Gathering of Waters. While the framing narrative is a little clunky at first and the book took a bit to really click for me, the payoff is worth a little patience at the beginning. I'm definitely going to keep an eye out for more of McFadden's novels.

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