SWEETBITTER by Reginald Gibbons

SWEETBITTER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An unremarkable forbidden-love story that pursues only superficially the strong situations it sets up. Reuben S. Sweetbitter, half-Choctaw, half-white, 24 years old, lives in turn-of-the-century East Texas in a sort of limbo. He grew up with his mother and her family (his white father was never spoken of) and knows Choctaw tales, words, and ways. But he also knows how to act like a ""negro,"" because after his mother died he found shelter with a black family. They sought to cure Reuben of his ""heathen"" habits by teaching him to read the Bible, so he speaks as well as most white folks and can almost ""pass"" with his light complexion. His chameleon-like talents are a help when Reuben decides, justifiably, that it is safest to stay as invisible as possible as he moves from town to town in search of work. But in Three Rivers he falls in love with a white lawyer's daughter, Martha, and they steal away together. After months on the run, the couple settles in with a wealthy woman who thinks herself a liberal for accepting an interracial relationship. But years later, with a guest house and two kids, Reuben still acts as a chauffeur and practically walks a pace behind. Martha resents being shut out of the society she was born into, while Reuben awaits the day when her brother arrives to strike him down. These are powerful themes that should have been explored, but the characters never pose any questions that might reveal their deepest sentiments. If TriQuarterly editor Gibbons (Five Pears or Peaches, not reviewed) thought the addition of chapters containing contemporary opinions on lynching and Choctaw histories of creation would add weight to his story, he was wrong: These sections merely serve as a distraction from the annoyingly shallow characters. Preachy and long-winded.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1994
ISBN: 0807128716
Page count: 440pp
Publisher: Broken Moon