An interracial couple adjusts to married life in the 1950s in Garner’s (Walk on Water, 2013, etc.) multilayered sequel to her 2011 debut novel, Solomon’s Blues.
After falling in love in a small Texas town, Esther and Taylor Payne relocate to the bohemian New York City neighborhood of Greenwich Village, where their relationship is not only legally permitted, but also generally accepted. Deeply in love, they enjoy a life filled with material comforts (Taylor joins a law firm) and the support of Esther’s nearby extended family. But Esther can’t escape the reality that she remains a black woman living in a white world. She tries to adapt to her new role as a society wife, sporting the proper hairstyles and wearing the right clothes. Yet while she changes externally, her faith endures and her commitment to family stays strong. Although she and Taylor are well-matched, he continues to be estranged from his family, a situation Esther fails to accept. Her determination to reunite Taylor with his uncle and sister endangers her marriage. Garner presents a well-written, descriptive novel, choosing a setting that allows her to address many of the cultural changes of the postwar era. The appealing story of Esther and Taylor’s love offers a peek into larger political and social issues. For example, World War II still haunts Esther and her friends (“No one was willing to let himself or herself believe in peace. We just hoped for it, while we built bomb shelters and practiced air-raid drills”). Garner peppers the narrative with cogent tidbits about national events, deftly working them in between a whirl of social obligations, Esther’s recollections of home, and steamy moments of lovemaking. For example, a group of wives discusses the polio vaccine, and Taylor rejoices when the verdict of Brown v. Board of Education is returned. In addition, Esther’s circle of acquaintances richly represents the melting pot that is American society, ranging from Holocaust survivors to Russian Marxist landlords. At the heart of the novel lie Esther and Taylor, well-drawn characters who are admirable yet endearingly fallible.
A strong, evocative sequel that follows an interracial couple coping with family and social complications in New York.