Set several years before the events of Straight’s Take One Candle Light a Room (2010), the third installment of her trilogy concerns the reactions and memories that a prostitute’s death stirs up in the tightknit black community in Rio Seco, Calif.
Video store employee Sidney Chabert notices Glorette Picard’s body in a shopping cart in the alley behind the Mexican restaurant where he’s just eaten. Glorette has become a streetwalker and a drug addict who has dangerously neglected her brilliant son, Victor. But like every guy who knew her in high school, Sidney has remained in love with Glorette, although it has been 20 years since she was an innocent, preternaturally beautiful girl growing up in orange groves that belonged to her “uncle,” Enrique Antoine, and her father, Gustave—the men’s binding relationship, their establishment of Rio Seco as a refuge for young women escaping a brutal white rapist in Louisiana, and the method by which Enrique gained ownership of the land are haunting subplots reaching back for generations. Once Sidney alerts Antoine’s sons, they bring Glorette’s body back to her family to be buried without police involvement. But her death roils the souls of all those whose lives she’s touched, however tangentially. In less than 250 pages, Straight develops a lot of characters in surprising depth: Enrique is bound for vengeance, while Gustave is overwhelmed with silent grief. Glorette’s former boyfriend Chess has remained devoted to her even after fathering a child with someone else. Enrique’s sons can’t quite leave their father’s home despite wives who strive, with mixed success, to assimilate their children into middle-class America. There are Glorette’s frankly skanky prostitute competitors and the men they service, or don’t service. And there is Glorette’s son, Victor, desperate to make it to college though thwarted at every turn.
Straight (who is white but eschews the self-congratulating, cliché-laden condescension of books like The Help) employs glorious language and a riveting eye for detail to create a fully realized, totally believable world.