THIS BITTER EARTH by Bernice L. McFadden


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Sugar Lacey’s melodrama continues in a sequel to the bestselling McFadden’s debut novel (Sugar, 2000).

Born out of wedlock and raised by Sara and May, two sisters who run a brothel in small-town Arkansas, Sugar returns one freezing winter night nearly dead, her belly sliced open. The stalwart sisters stitch her up without asking too many questions, but Sara, troubled by conscience, finally reveals what she knows about Sugar’s parents. Bertie Mae Brown was a shy young woman in love with Joe Taylor, an itinerant railroad worker. Their love triggered inexplicable jealousy in Shonuff Clayton, a handsome, dangerously unstable man who also happened to be Sara’s lover. What Sara doesn’t reveal: She was the one who collected a few strands of Bertie’s beautiful hair and Joe’s sweaty handkerchief for Shonuff, who then paid an obeah woman to put a curse on Bertie and Joe and all their descendants. Bertie gave birth to Sugar after Joe moved away and married Pearl Taylor. But Joe couldn’t escape the curse: his daughter Jude was murdered. Only Sugar knew who did it—and she kept her mouth shut. Although Sara and May die of natural causes during her stay with them, Sugar is nonetheless suspected of causing their deaths and decamps once more. Ten years later, in St. Louis, she finds her old friend Mary Bedford emaciated and near death, her decrepit house turned into a shooting gallery for neighborhood junkies. She ties up Mary’s addicted granddaughter Mercy in the garret of the New Hope African Methodist Church and bottle-feeds her with broth until the girl is over the worst of heroin withdrawal. They can’t stay at the church forever, however, so Sugar and Mercy return to Bigelow, hoping for help from their kinfolk. Here, the somewhat incoherent plot quickly ends: the man who murdered Jude Taylor and attacked Sara is back in town—and more than one person wants him dead.

Vivid style and strong characters add credibility to an equally melodramatic follow-up.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-525-94636-5
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2001


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