An exploration of race relations in Louisiana from multiple perspectives, including those of a 12-year-old white girl and her family’s African-American housekeeper.
In the early 1990s, Mary Jacob Ascher (nee Long) gets a call from her older sister, Kathryn, informing her that their father, Jack, is dying and that she’d better hurry home to Murpheysfield, Louisiana, if she wants to see him. Mary Jacob, one of the narrators of the story, reminisces about her privileged upbringing and the “gorgeous greedy bitches” who were Jack’s ex-wives. On her return trip she finds out that Billy Ray Davis, a brilliant harmonica player from Murpheysfield who had made a name for himself in the '60s, is passing through town to give a concert. Billy Ray is the son of Lavina Davis, the Longs' housekeeper, who provided most of the nurture and care that Mary Jacob received during the formative years of her adolescence. We see the family dynamics—that Mary Jacob is still alienated from Kathryn, who’d always been the pretty one, and that Jack wants to see his beautiful former wife, Van, before he dies, and he asks Mary Jacob to find her. The novel then shifts back to the summer of 1963, when racial tensions are high in Louisiana, and a rumor develops that Martin Luther King is coming to Murpheysfield to lead a sit-in. Jack’s virulent racism leads him to consider assassinating King, and Mary Jacob, already questioning the system under which she’d been raised, develops a counterplot that would involve sacrificing her own life. We also encounter racism through the experience of Billy Ray’s growing musical prowess and his involvement with Mary Jacob’s family.
Thoughtful fiction that once again exposes the dark enigma of America’s racist past and present.