Randolph’s debut novel follows four generations of multiracial characters as it takes on issues of race, class, sex and success.
The story begins in the 1920s with Tally Blackpearl, the young, light-skinned granddaughter of a wealthy white man and one of his black servants. Her color becomes a source of trouble: She can pass for white, but it alienates her from her darker-skinned relatives, her fiancé and her culture, leaving her craving connection. She becomes obsessed with Josephine Baker, an icon of Jazz Age black culture, with whom her husband was once romantically entangled; he gives Tally a shoe that belonged to the singer that he’s kept as a lucky charm. The shoe, a pump described as “black velvet with a rhinestone-studded heel, tall as the stem of a Lalique wine glass, its satin lining as red as Satan’s tongue,” occasionally comes to life, providing a sporadic thread of magical realism in this otherwise straightforward, realistic work. The story uses a jumble of perspectives: The first half is told from Tally’s point of view, with a brief excursion into the voice of her sister, Eureka; later, Tally’s daughter, JoKay, narrates the story, and the final chapters are written in the voice of JoKay’s adopted daughter Saintelle. The book introduces and discards characters and plotlines haphazardly; despite Eureka’s major role in the early part of the book, for example, she largely disappears later on. The plot often hinges on quick, contrived turns; a bigamous husband’s deception, for example, is discovered when one wife opens his mail and finds a picture with a note that reads: “Here’s the picture of your wife and kids you wanted from the enjoyed outing at your new home.” The novel also treats some themes superficially; even the central issue of race is sometimes reduced to platitudes such as, “Being a part of the Negro race sure had variety.”
A convoluted family drama that tries to cover too much ground.