The third entry in Crosby’s (Jubilee's Journey, 2013, etc.) Wyattsville series spans 20 years and a journey from Alabama to Pennsylvania—a great distance of more than land for Benjamin Church.
Following World War II, when African-American Benjamin returns to his hometown of Grinder’s Corner, Alabama, it’s both comforting and disheartening to find nothing has changed. He returns to his father’s home, to the backbreaking work of farming, and to the widespread racism, both black and white, taken for granted in the Deep South of the 1940s. Then he falls in love with Delia Finch, a preacher’s daughter whose father sees Benjamin as beneath her; when she gets pregnant out of wedlock, George Finch rejects them entirely, and they flee to the Church farm to marry and eke out a life completely different from the one Delia imagined for herself. She gives birth to twins, but one, a girl, dies tragically, and it takes her a long time to grow attached to her remaining child, Isaac. Yet when she does, she wants only the best for him, hoping he can get a good education and go North where he has more opportunities. A drunk driver shatters their lives, and Benjamin is forced to abandon the land of his roots and head North in his rickety pickup to try to find a better, freer life. While Crosby’s pacing is sometimes a bit rushed—years pass in a paragraph—the novel is well-written and engaging, and readers will welcome back characters from previous Wyattsville books. However, while the narrative’s attempt to engage the African-American experience has the best of intentions, it’s not quite convincing. In the introduction, Crosby invokes the systematic racism she recalls from her own white, Southern heritage and makes the troubling assertion that “neither black nor white considered these actions cruel; they simply were what they were.” Elsewhere, when Benjamin reaches Virginia, a white family welcomes him into their home but dismisses his protests that he’s restricted by his race, despite it being his everyday experience; in fact, the family patriarch lectures him on injustice. It’s an uncomfortable scene, to say the least.
Racially problematic but otherwise an enjoyable read.