The Enchanted

IMG_0184I read The Enchanted the second week of last month (May).  It took me three days.  Once I got started I felt I needed to read it quickly or I’d stop reading it and never finish.  This is the story of prison, prisoners, the people who work there, and the system.  It starts with a beautiful passage introducing us to this enchanted place.  “This is an enchanted place.  Others don’t see it but I do.  I see every cinder block, every hallway and doorway.  I see the airways that lead to the secret stairs and the stairs that take you into stone towers and the towers that take you to windows and the windows that open to wide, clear air.” (The Enchanted p. 1)  From there this mysterious prisoner recounts the ins and outs of this “enchanted” place and the people in it.

The rest of the story is recounted in a third person that remains omniscient, even though we know this prisoner is real, even though we don’t his name (until the end).  He knows everything about the prisoners and the people who work there.  This is not really plausible but the reigning of magical realism scattered throughout the story allows for this.  By page 60 I was already a bit detached from the story because of this.  It didn’t help either that some of the main characters didn’t have names. They were referred to as the Lady, the Priest, and the Warden.  This made me detached from them.

I always seem to have a problem with magical realism in novels when its purpose is not defined correctly in the story.  The problem with the magical realism in this one is that it seems to be nothing more than a device to soften the horrors of the story.  Reading about violence and sexual abuse for 233 pages was difficult for me.  It didn’t get better as it went along.  It got worse.  The unfolding of the traumatic backgrounds of the different characters reinforced the points they have in common. There seemed to be no optimism or light at the end of the tunnel anywhere.   Denfeld obviously had an agenda when she wrote this novel and I felt slightly manipulated while reading it.  She used her personal experience to give realism to the story and that coupled with excellent prose adds a certain strength to the novel.  Unfortunately, I’m sure I wouldn’t have picked this book up if I would have known what it was really about.  It was very heavy and there were passages that were difficult for me to read.  The abuse and violence seemed to be unfaltering.  However the writing is very astute and to the point.  It is one of the strongest points about the book.

Rene Denfeld is a death penalty investigator, so she deals with death row clients as well as working with at-risk adolescents.  She has written a few other non-fiction books and articles in magazines.  She will most likely get much recognition for this novel because of the importance of the subject.  The Enchanted is fiction and deals with prison life differently than what is normally expected for this kind of work.  Her novel is already being hailed as possibly the best novel of 2014.  So, if you’ve read The Enchanted comment below and tell me what you thought about it?  Do you think it’s the best novel of 2014? Did you like the ending?

Gathering of Waters

I can’t say I’ve read lots of books by Bernice L. McFadden.  Actually I’ve only read two, Glorious and 11225026Gathering of Waters.  Glorious was a story about a Harlem renaissance writer, which I enjoyed until it ended abruptly and left me searching for more.  I embarked on Gathering of Waters for three reasons; 1. because it was written by Bernice L. McFadden, 2. because it was the 2013 Clutch Reading group on Goodreads title choice for the month of May, and 3.  after I read the inside flap of the book with this stunning cover, I was immediately sold and knew I had to read it.

The story basically follows three generations of women from 1900 to 2005.  So, it covers life leading up to the week before Emmett Till is murdered and goes on beyond that.  I found this story beautifully recounted and that dash of magical realism that makes the entire story come to life unexpectedly.  There are a range of engrossing characters who are defined and developed perfectly.  The book isn’t very long so McFadden was successful in depicting the characters in particular situations and with rich, moving, and sassy dialogue.  Gathering of Waters, has that bold, direct storytelling style that makes African-American literature so thought-provoking.  It’s stuffed full of excellent one liners that mean so much.

Now I have to mention the debate I’ve been hearing about the usage of Emmett Till in the story.  There are people out there who think McFadden is using the Emmett Till murder to plug her book.  I can see how people would think that but it’s not the case.  If you read the inside flap of the book, that is basically a short synopsis of the story that you will be reading.  What McFadden does is set Emmett Till in a real space of life so that he becomes more than just a murdered young black man.  There was a before, a now, and an after and McFadden explores all that.  The fact that she decided to write this book is also edifying.  There are people out there who don’t even know who Emmett Till was and I’m not just talking about white people.  This incident was one of  many stains on American history that hasn’t made it in the history books.  How did I learn about that tragic night for Emmett Till?  – Of course from my mother and my grand-mother.  Oral discourse, the oldest way to pass on family traditions, history, and cultural habits.  Gathering of Waters is a perfect example of that.

Money, Mississippi is the narrator.  It lets you in on all the workings and secrets of this microcosm.  The ‘gathering of waters’ is more than a place that’s squashed between bodies of water, a place called Mississippi.  It is also symbolic of that fine line that separates blacks from whites.  It is the place where they meet like bouncing molecules off one another.  They come together for a moment only to separate soon there after.

Bernice L. McFadden has been writing since she was eight years old.  Her first novel, Sugar, which is part of a duo, was published in 2000.  She’s written other compelling novels like Glorious, This Bitter Earth (second part of Sugar), Nowhere is a Place, Loving Donovan, and others.  She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Warmest December.  She is strongly influenced by authors like Toni Morrison, Ann Petry, Alice Walker,  J. California Cooper, and Rita Dove.  McFadden describes writing as something that comes to her and a necessity.  McFadden says, “I write to breathe life back into memory.”

Title: Gathering of Waters

Genre:  African-American Literature/Historical Fiction/Southern

Published:  2012

Edition:  Akashic Books

Pages:  252

Language:  English

My rating:  * * * * 1/2

+5,761