Second-novelist Vernon (Eden, 2003) reveals her southern antecedents in Faulkner and Morrison in a desperately sad tale of a retarded, abused young black girl in hopeless Valsin County, Mississippi.
Thirteen-year-old Logic Harris fell from a tree and has never since been right in the head—she asks her mother, Too, a local midwife and white woman’s maid, how to spell “heaven.” Logic’s father David Harris, a laconic, repressed man who works in the woodyard, has rejected Too and sexually abuses Logic, who believes that “a cloud of butterflies” floats in her stomach: she may or may not be pregnant. In any event, nobody seems to notice as her belly swells, whether from pregnancy or malnutrition. Across the street live a sick prostitute, George, and her four unschooled children from different fathers; George’s visits from “the man made of paper” provide the narrative with some fodder, especially in George’s oldest son, called merely “the tallest,” who likes to dress in his mother’s clothes and is the sole character who seems to understand and care for Logic. Little happens in this slim, richly metaphorical, nearly unreadable narrative, yet it holds the reader by its truly daring if not always successful figurative leaps (“The sun had risen into an unkept alphabet”). Logic speaks in parables, like Jesus, and indeed is compared to an innocent sacrificial lamb; she carries around wire hangers she wants her mother’s employer, the Missis, to help her fashion into butterfly wings. As in Vernon’s debut, a brutality fed by poverty and ignorance barely simmers under the surface, and acts of violence are likely to erupt at any moment—as with the appearance of an ex-con to delineate the Harris property in barbed wire, a man who himself is haunted by the homosexual savagery he suffered from in prison.
Vernon’s vision is relentless, nearly misanthropic, often unintelligible except at a second reading. Altogether, Logic is like an early effort, before the author could hone her vision.