Set in the backwoods of East Texas in the present day, this story feels historical. As a reader, I found myself getting shocked back into the present with modern day facts after feeling lulled into the past with the race relations as author Attica Locke lays them out.
The plot centers around two murders in Lark, TX: that of a black male lawyer from Chicago and that of a young local white female. In a small Texas town with a heavy concentration of Aryan Brotherhood members, guess which murder gets priority?
Both bodies are found in the river that passes behind Geneva Sweet’s Sweets, run by none other than Geneva, of steely hair and character. Opening the shop years back to provide hot meals and respite to blacks when “whites only” signs were the norm, she currently serves all races with efficiency and diplomacy. Across the street from Sweet’s sits the home of Wallace Jefferson III. Geneva and Wally, as he’s known, have a complicated history tinged with a strange mutual respect despite Wally’s overt racism and singular desire to buy Geneva out of her property so he can develop it for profit. Their history ties the past to the present.
Murders aren’t new to Lark. Geneva’s own husband was murdered in her store during a random robbery years before. Or was it random? As Darren, the black Texas Ranger main character unravels the story of what happened with respect to the current murders, secrets of the past pop up like unwanted bad dreams.
Darren is a mass of complications himself. Temporarily suspended from the Rangers, his marriage is on the rocks, his drinking is nearing critical mass, and his feelings for the wife of the dead man reach beyond professional courtesy.
Locke tells a harsh story of racism, hate, and murder with a beautiful voice. Her command of language turns ugly into lovely. Describing the night sky in a scene fraught with tension, she writes it is “thick enough to touch, a velvet quilt of black stitched through with stars.”
The story is intense and edgy, the prose poetic and lilting. The Lark murders resolve in a way that makes sense based on the past that Darren unearths. But Locke packs a blindsided punch at the end that is so hard on a peripheral storyline, I finished the final pages in muted shock. I had to go back and read them again to make sure I had gotten it right.
Will we ever cure the global race problem? No way to know; but Locke urges us through her writing to keep tackling it one-on-one. When you’re looking in someone’s face, she reminds us, you’re dealing with a person, not a color. Act accordingly.
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Elizabeth's rating: 4.5 stars