Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Healing

In the past, I've shared my frustration with the lack of imagination exhibited by reviewers and blurbers (I'm going to pretend that's a real word for the people who write the blurbs on book jackets) in making comparisons between books.  It seems that if they can't compare it to something that's been atop the NY Times Bestseller list for 72 weeks, it's not worth making the comparison.  Having said that, you will inevitably hear Jonathan Odell's forthcoming novel, The Healing compared to The Help.  Both take place in Mississippi.  Both revolve around the lives of women, mostly African-American.  Both involve a struggle for true freedom.  That's really where the similarities end.  

The Healing is a poignant story about the lives of slaves on an antebellum plantation, their roles in the house and field, the relationship to their owners, and their struggle with the concept and dream of freedom.  In the author's note that follows the book, Odell (a white man born and raised in Mississippi) confesses that when he told an African-American friend that he was writing about slavery, his friend warned him not to write another To Kill a MockingbirdOdell's reaction was, like mine, "I thought everybody loved that book!"  His friend cautioned that he didn't want to read another book where the characters of color are rescued by the benevolent white person.  Odell seems to have taken his friend's message to heart and wrote complex, real characters who rely on themselves rather than the plantation owners to deal with the situations they face. 

And now, I'll add my comparisons to the mix: like Lalita Tademy's Cane River, The Healing is an intricately woven story of the connections between slaves on a single plantation and the relationships that develop across generations.  Like Dolen Perkins-Valdez's Wench, The Healing examines the complicated and double-edged relationship between the plantation owner and the most favored slaves.  Like The Story of Beautiful Girl it considers the impact on a childless old woman who is suddenly made guardian of a small child with an unknown story.  But, as they used to say on Reading Rainbow, don't take my word for it!  Read The Healing and tell me what comparisons you'd make.

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