Blackberry Women by Ella Williams

Blackberry Women

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A historical novel from Williams (Strength to Carry On, 1998) that tells a story of the lives and struggles of an African-American farming family in the first half of the 20th century.
The novel opens sometime in the 1930s as teenage Lola wakes to realize that her mother has added a new baby to the family. She and her many siblings face the challenges of farm life and poverty as the story follows them into adulthood; they leave home and return, have children of their own and pass their troubles on to the next generation. Violence, alcohol, bad choices and bad relationships keep most of the family members from moving from subsistence to success. Some scenes are evocative and sharply drawn, including Williams’ depiction of long days spent in the cotton fields. However, an overall lack of detail keeps the story unmoored to specific times and places. There are references to Shirley Temple movies and a wartime military draft, for example, but the book never clearly identifies the story’s exact location. Despite the clearly Southern setting, segregation is only occasionally noted, and Lola’s prejudice against the “gypsies” who try to steal her infant sister seems far more intense than anything the African-American characters face. The prose is often awkward, often changing tenses (“Miss Dale told them that the least little trouble or bad news from either one of them will cancel the trip, and she will take someone else in their place”) or suddenly switching between the third-person perspectives of different characters. Also, many of the novel’s minor conflicts seem more like unconnected episodes than components of a unified plot.

A well-intentioned but unpolished novel of a family’s bleak existence in the rural South.
Pub Date: March 12th, 2007
ISBN: 978-1420878417
Page count: 392pp
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Program: Kirkus Indie
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