An affecting tale of an African-American family who prepare for their town’s annual celebration of the end of slavery, while they struggle to understand and forgive the accidental death of a young boy the year before.
Halley’s Landing, Illinois, honors Emancipation with an August festival, a parade, and a huge picnic. The town is a Mayberry sort of place where everyone knows everyone else, is friendly, and the older women, like Aunt Cora, are known for their cooking. The story of the days leading up to the 1986 festival is told by a range of characters who also recall earlier festivals, like the one in 1973 when the beautiful Flossie Jo walked up the aisle with a pistol in her hand and threatened to shoot the associate pastor because she thought he’d made her teenage daughter, Sweet Alma, pregnant. Now, 13 years later, people remember the accidental death in 1985 of 12-year-old El, the son who’d been born to Sweet Alma. Businessman Herbert’s wife Thelma; Aunt Cora, who raised Thelma and her brother Solomon; Flossie Jo; and Pepper, youngest son of Thelma and Herbert, all flash-back to the days leading up to young El’s death. Even though El was Sweet Alma’s son, Flossie insisted on rearing him so Alma could continue her education. That decision hurt Sweet Alma, who hasn’t come to a Festival since then. Pepper, who was with El when the accident happened, still feels guilty, and Flossie can’t forgive him for the accident. But as the truth comes out about the events of the previous year, family members confess secrets—and white Englishwoman May Ruth, who stays with Aunt Cora every year, reveals her own tragic secrets.
Believable characters give substance to what’s sometimes a saccharine-sweet folksy tale about middle-class African-Americans honoring the past as they nourish the ties of the present