ONE DARK BODY by Charlotte Watson Sherman


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A spare and lyrical first novel about African-American rituals of faith carried from slave ships to a town in the Pacific Northwest, and about the universal healing power of love. Expanded from a story in Sherman's debut collection (Killing Color, p. 16), this delineates the calamities of three generations of the black community in Pearl, Washington, and especially of 12-year-old Raisin, whose young father committed suicide rather than go to work in the local mines and whose teenage mother then tried to abort her with an African remedy of herbs and berries. Born wrinkled and raised parentless by town matriarch Miss Marius, Raisin has one friend in the world: 14-year-old Sin-Sin, who was conceived when his mother, the local schoolteacher, was seduced by a mysterious male presence wrapped in an orange mist that poured through her window at night and that now inhabits Sin-Sin's dreams and stains his skin. Dreams are plentiful here, since, clairvoyant himself, Sin-Sin is under the tutelage of hermit wanga-man Blue, who's resolved to teach him ancient African woodland ways and to make a man of the fatherless boy. But when Raisin's mother, the Gershwin-esque Nola Barnett, returns to claim her daughter's spirit for the dead who haunt her, all hell breaks loose: Blue sacrifices his life to save Raisin from a drowning suicide; Sin-Sin undergoes a bloody initiation into manhood; Nola chooses life over death for the first time; and Raisin, reconciled to her mother, becomes a woman as she grows into her envelope of wrinkled skin. The spirits of the lake and trees surrounding Pearl form an additional chorus of ancient characters who affect the protagonists' fate. Altogether, there is a tedious emphasis on dark souls, dreams, watery wishes, talking trees, and prescient bones and not enough focus on what's for dinner--all this, even so, in a novel of great promise and considerable interest.

Pub Date: Feb. 17th, 1993
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: HarperCollins