COME SEPTEMBER by Harriet A. Robinson


A Different Kind of Memoir
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A woman charts her own life’s journey and provides an account of the African-American experience through a kaleidoscope of nonfiction essays and fictionalized vignettes.

Using “conversations, some in fantasy, most in reality,” this collection incorporates many years’ worth of essays, poems, songs, plays, and journal entries by Robinson (Brewer Genealogy, 2016) over her life as a writer and a storyteller. The collection is divided into five sections: “Expressions of Hope,” “Expressions of Wonder,” “Faith,” “Introspection,” and “Pain and Contemplation.” Except for the last, the tone is unvaryingly uplifting and often humorous. Robinson’s Christian beliefs are also infused into her work; for example, she includes short biblical verses at the beginning of each section and lyrics from public-domain spirituals in her plays. However, her faith is a touchstone rather than her primary subject, which is African-American history. When one historical figure, educator, and civil-rights activist, Mary McLeod Bethune, shows up as a subject in one of the plays, Robinson makes a key point about biographical fiction that also informs this work: “writers have to use their common sense and imagination while being as true as they can to all the information that is available to them.” In “Pain and Contemplation,” she grows more serious and laments disunity in families—the backbiting, pettiness, and dysfunction that can tear people apart or even kill them. Most of her characters are women, but she also memorably creates a grandfather who’s exploited by a troubled free spirit. The book aims for a tone similar to that of the famous 1954 E.B. White story “The Second Tree from the Corner,” but it falls short of White’s wit and wry style; instead, it’s a bit syrupy and too often peppered with exclamation points. Robinson also could have let her tales unfold more naturally, instead of offering long soliloquies and expository dialogue. The book’s portrayal of the way young people talk also seems a bit idealized and unrealistic (“Really! That’s neat”).

A sometimes-saccharine but positive collection of personal and imagined accounts.

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-5127-5306-6
Page count: 170pp
Publisher: Westbow Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
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