A grim tale, set in the dying days of segregation, about one young woman’s struggle to escape her past, her mother, and her duties.
Phillips writes vividly and certainly creates memorable characters—most of them, however, remembered for their nastiness, there being an absence of redeeming features. The blacks who live in Pakersfield, Georgia, are almost as nasty as the whites, who are all racist, vicious hypocrites. Both races father illegitimate children, and while the older blacks fear confrontation, the younger want to act immediately. The story, told by Tangy Mae, begins as her mother Rozelle gives birth to her tenth child, Judy. All the children have different fathers, Tangy Mae the darkest, while Rozelle herself is the product of a white man who raped her mother. Rozelle, who takes center stage, is a monster whose treatment of her children reads like a charge sheet. Which is the novel’s fundamental weakness: Rozelle is beyond awful, disowned even by her mother, but the author offers no explanation for her cruelty. And as Tangy Mae, a bright student, struggles to stay in school, keep Rozelle happy, and care for her siblings, she records the horrors her mother inflicts on her children. She insists that all the money they earn, including that of her two grown up sons Sam and Harvey, be given to her; she forces daughters Tara and Mushy to work at a local whorehouse, and she beats them, burns them with cigarettes, insists they shoplift , and denies them proper education. While Rozelle becomes even more out of control, a young black activist is hanged, and Sam and his angry cohorts burn down white stores, with inevitable repercussions. The most lethal damage, though, is till to come at the hands of Rozelle.
Good intentions, but overwrought.