Second-novelist Perry (Stigmata, 1998) follows the fortunes and travails of an upwardly mobile African-American clan across much of the country and most of the 20th century.
The saga opens in Johnson Creek, Alabama, in the early 1900s, when rural blacks live in a segregated world immensely harsher but in some ways far richer than that of their white neighbors. Frank and Joy Mobley are an unusual couple in many ways: Frank is an American Indian of the Creek tribe; Joy is the daughter of a woman born in Africa who lived most of her life as a slave. With 70 acres of good farmland and two houses, the Mobleys are quite well off by the standards of their black neighbors, and they have high expectations for their three daughters, Grace, Mary Nell, and Eva. But fate has a way of interfering. All three girls turn out to possess “the sight”: they’re given to visions, dreams, and aural hallucinations that offer them glimpses of the future. Frank and Joy do their best to discourage their daughters’ belief in what they see as an embarrassing peasant superstition Joy’s mother brought over from Africa, but the girls soon find themselves called upon for advice and prophecies and develop a small cult following in the region. Domestic life in a family of clairvoyants can be difficult, however, as Mary Nell discovers when she “sees” Eva being raped by her husband. Unable to bear children of her own, she counsels her sister to go through with the resulting pregnancy—and steals the baby boy after he’s born. The siblings break up, reunite, and part again over the years, eventually making peace after a great deal of turmoil and heartbreak. The gift of the sight binds them in the end—to each other and to their ancestors.
Despite an unwieldy narrative and overly intricate plot: an extremely readable and interesting portrait of a lost time and place.