Characters are kicked to the side of the road with little afterthought in Glickman’s (One More River, 2011, etc.) tale of forbidden love and intolerance, set in the South during the early 1900s.
When Mags Preacher arrives in St. Louis in 1916, the young black woman dreams of one day owning a beauty shop. Armed with a $10 loan and directions to a boardinghouse, she finds work in Fishbein’s Funeral Home, which caters to black customers and seems to be a good, if unusual, place to learn her trade. Mags’ hours are spent preparing bodies in the basement beside George McCallum, the manager, whom she marries after a brief courtship. The funeral home was once owned by George’s relatives but was sold to a Jewish émigré whose disturbed daughter, Minerva "Minnie" Fishbein, witnessed the massacre of her biological family during anti-Semitic pogroms in Eastern Europe. Magnus Bailey, a handsome black dandy who made the original loan to Mags, is Fishbein’s business partner and good friend, and he also happens to be the object of Minnie’s affection. Affected by extreme acts of racism, Fishbein sells the business and leaves St. Louis. Mags, who has a newborn daughter by this time, is dropped off at her cousin’s home and, after being the central character in the narrative for more than a quarter of the book, pretty much becomes a nonentity. With nary a backward glance, the others travel to Memphis and take center stage. Acutely aware that an interracial relationship can only spell disaster, Magnus lies to Minnie and flees the area, and Minnie tries to follow him. Her journey results in a pivotal experience that affects the course of her life and convinces Magnus that he must take responsibility for their future. (He disappears and works for years in menial jobs before returning to Minnie.) Glickman skillfully conveys the struggles of African-Americans and Jews during this era, but the love story between Magnus and Minnie lacks credibility and emotion.
The author abandons the most relatable character in the narrative to focus on a weaker, less interesting—and in many ways, more predictable—story.