Welcome back to another bookish week here at Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers.
Today's post is getting a late start on the virtual waves. My apologies for that but life got in the way of me finishing the read over the weekend (work, home life, and the first meeting of our new local book club - more on that another time) and I simply couldn't blog about it until I finished it. Since the actual finish time was like four this morning, I opted for a little shut eye so that my brain might actually comprehend what I read, and wanted to say about it. Sound like a plan? See! I knew you'd agree! Anywho, back to today's featured title....
Coming to us from the grand team over at The Story Plant with a head's up from the author herself, it was a title that I may not have noticed otherwise. Why? Well, not for lack of interest if that's what you're thinking, but simply a case of I hadn't heard of the author, knew not a thing about the work, and the title didn't necessarily reach out and grab my attention. Shame on me because I would have missed a really GOOD read..and now perhaps thanks to my adventure through the pages, YOU won't fall to the same fate. Getting ready to celebrate its BOOK BIRTHDAY TOMORROW, here comes today's book of choice...
About the book...
Mary Jacob grew up as an anomaly. A child of Louisiana in the early sixties, she found little in common with most of the people in her community and in her household, and her best friend was Lavina, the black woman who cooked and cleaned for her family. Now, in the early nineties, Mary Jacob has escaped her history and established a fresh, if imperfect, life for herself in New York. But when she learns of her father’s critical illness, she needs to go back home. To a disapproving father and a spiteful sister. To a town decades out of alignment with Mary Jacob’s new world. To the memories of Billy Ray, Lavina’s son who grew up to be a musical legend whose star burned much too bright.
And to the echoes of a fateful day three decades earlier when three lives changed forever.
A generation-spanning story both intimate and enormous in scope, LAVINA is a novel rich in humanity, sharp in its indictments, and stunning in its resolution.
This is as much a story of the tumultuous times in the South as it is a recollection of two souls finding their way back to themselves.
When start in the nineties, meeting Mary Jacob and Billy Ray as they are, both adults, both with lives, both with hardships, and both being drawn back to their hometown come heck or high water. Neither has had any inclination to darken doorways in that part of the country for decades and yet fate can be a funny mistress. She is there because her father is on his death bed. He is there because his career is on its last leg and this (of all places) is where his new manager booked a gig. One thing leads to another and their paths cross, opening up the floodgates to memories locked away long ago for you see, both also seek closure (she can't remember her childhood days and he wants to truth behind his mother's death) and the only way to get it is from each other. Can they put themselves on the line to uncover the truths that happened so long ago? Or is it too much to ask of a stranger that is so very familiar? Neither is a coward, but the results unleash a much bigger aspect of the story.
The bulk of the novel takes place back in the early sixties, when man was realizing that we are all created equal and therefore no one should be OWNED by another. Was that an easy lesson to learn? For some, yes...for others, no. Those that were resistant to the idea were making their feelings known in much more volatile ways than the oppressed were in their demonstrations. In this case, things went a step too far ending with the death of someone unintended. This one act of ignorance, this violent end is what the whole story circles around. It is the turning point for Billy Ray, when he escaped town and became the star he is/was today. It is the time that marks the start of Mary Jacob's memories of childhood for all that happened before was wiped clean from her mind, until now. It is also the road that she must walk today in order to set things right both for herself and the familiar stranger that is Billy Ray.
I really enjoyed the in-depth look at both of these youngsters lives, as well as that of her family, and friends. It brought us closer to them all, even when we might not have wanted to be. Mary Jacob was a force to be reckoned with in her own little way. All she wanted was love and acceptance. All she got was the short end of the stick and constant reminders of how she wasn't like her sister, Kathryn. I wanted to hug this little misfit multiple times and was glad she found a safe refuge in the heart of Lavina. Despite times being what they were, she and her were like peas in a pod. It warmed my heart (while simultaneously breaking it) to see little Mary Jacob stand up for Lavina to the store clerk about the scarf, then again to "Miz Hot Meal" (the nurse that eventually lives with them to care for her mother). The shared breaking and warming continued when Mary Jacob tells us how she associates the woman lying ill upstairs to her sister's mother, and Lavina as her own. Just goes to show you with whom she had more interaction...but she wasn't an uncaring child. In fact, she may have been the only one that truly DID care for anyone else in that household.
The sister was an awful, self absorbed shell of a person (sad to say, that doesn't change with the passage of time) and totally deserves the little hot sauce trick Mary Jacob plays on her (too funny!). I could see that Mary Jacob got her kind heart from her mother, despite her inability to really show too much affection or side with the right sibling. The torment she is put through by her very own flesh and blood is enough to stop a clock, but the real villain to her heart is her own husband, Big Jack. There was a time or two (at the very least) that I simply wanted to turn his belt whipping ways on him! Some things were simply a product of the times, but others were simply because he was an a**. The passage of time lessened some of his bark but the bite was still there and that's not something one can forgive or forget so easily. Moving forward....
The story is told in alternating chapters, one from Mary Jacob's viewpoint, then one from Billy Ray, with a third narrator thrown in from time to time. Who is the third? Why the spirit of none other than the book's namesake, Ms. Lavina! Yes, that's right. We get a little sage advice and memories of what was, from the "other side", and while it could have been hokey, it wasn't; it added a genuine warmth and further clarification to some passages of time only she would have. I was actually surprised though in regards to how much of the novel was in the past and that the only true hop to the "present" was the concluding chapter. I was expecting another division in the novel like at the start. In truth, there is enough there to bring everyone full circle, but I think I would have liked to have seen a smidge more. After all, we came to know a decent amount about our two leads along the way, I would have liked to see how all this revelation affected them on a more intimate level. But I digress...
In conclusion, a novel that sheds light on the evils that man commits against his fellow man both historically and personally. It reminds us that we should never take the little things for granted because we never know when their comforting familiarity might disappear. It shines a light on the importance of family, but also in having a true sense of self. We are not to be doormats for anyone, friend, family, or foe. Our ideals and loyalties are our own, and EVERY man, woman, and child, is entitled to them. So I invite you to take a walk down memory lane with Mary Jacob, Billy Ray, and yes, Lavina, as they all discover what's really important in life and the impact their decisions/actions had on the bigger picture.
Recommended read for Historical Fiction and General Fiction fans that appreciate a glimpse of the past and present with moments to remember, for better or worse.
About the author...
Mary Marcus has published short fiction in North Atlantic Review, Karamu, Fiction, Jewish Women’s Literary Journal and The New Delta Review among others. Her first novel takes her deeply personal voice to a new level. Danny Goldberg, author of Bumping Into Geniuses called The New Me “Part baby-boom prose poem, part woman’s re-birth…alternately hilarious and heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful. What a cool first novel!” Moira Walley-Beckett, Writer/Co-Executive Producer of Breaking Bad said, “The New Me is funny, poignant and deftly written. It is a relatable story that beats with a pulse of a modern marriage paradigm and provides cringe-worthy moments that simultaneously delight and distress. This book made me uncomfortable in all the best ways. I couldn’t put it down.”
Special thanks to both author Mary Marcus and Lou at The Story Plant for the ARC for review. (THANKS!) For more information on this title, the author, the publisher, or any other flights of bookish fancy your mind may have wandered near during the course of this post, feel free to click through the links provided above. Again, this title is set to release April 28, 2015, so be on the lookout for it on a bookstore shelf or at a virtual retailer of your choosing. Can't wait? You can ALWAYS pre-order it now and when tomorrow dawns, it'll start winging its way to you. Just sayin'. ^_^
Until next time...happy reading!