Sullivan’s debut novel steeps the reader in steamy New Orleans in the summer of 1953, a time when segregation was a fixed reality.
The racism of residents is apparent when Judith and Bart, a young white couple, move into town. Educated, ambitious and broad-minded, the two moved from Iowa, where the weather and the views on diversity were very different. They’re shocked to discover the entrenched racism and despair to see the effects it has on African-Americans; they decide to take action. Judith begins to teach her black neighbors how to read; this raises the hackles of Ursula Christian, an old-fashioned Southern white woman who is set in her ways and wants to maintain the balance of power. Ursula’s husband, Fletcher, however, believes the local university should open its doors to African-Americans, a cause that upsets Ursula who has “[n]ever, never in her life…sat with a Negra.” Fletcher enlists Judith’s assistance in his fight to bring equality to New Orleans, driving Ursula to sabotage Judith’s marriage, as well as her plans to help the black community. Fletcher’s and Ursula’s contrasting views and conflicting interests affect Judith and Bart, who soon finds themselves pitted against each other. Before long, Judith’s efforts toward community activism implode as those resistant to change fight back with vengeance. Sharply sketched and vividly told, this tale of two contrasting couples serves as a backdrop for a rich exploration of race, loyalty and fear. Ursula symbolizes racist views and all of its concomitant elements, while Judith highlights the need for change and bravery. New Orleans serves as its own 3-D character as well as a fitting backdrop for Judith and Fletcher’s impassioned fight for civil rights. The novel is exciting and well-paced, portraying not only a complex tale of conflicts in marriage, but the very real dangers in trying to enact change in a resistant society.
An evocative, candid period piece that examines racism in the Big Easy.