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TAKE ONE CANDLE, LIGHT A ROOM by Susan Straight Kirkus Star


by Susan Straight

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-307-37914-6
Publisher: Pantheon

From National Book Award finalist Straight (Highwire Moon, 2001, etc.), a searing, ultimately redemptive novel about America’s legacy of racial violence and a woman’s struggle to forge her own identity.

FX Antoine is a successful travel writer, based in Los Angeles when she’s not jetting around the world for Vogue and Travel + Leisure. Sixty-two miles away in her hometown of Rio Seco, she’s simply Fantine, daughter of one of five black girls sent from rural Louisiana to live in California after the local plantation owner raped three of them in 1958. Her great-great-great-grandmother was also raped by a white man (A Million Nightingales, 2006), and slavery’s heritage of forced miscegenation is visible in Fantine’s mocha skin, which keeps her professional contacts guessing about her background, to her sardonic amusement. White people who look at her godson Victor see only a threatening black man, even though he’s managed to graduate from community college with honors despite growing up with a crack-addicted mother: Glorette, Fantine’s childhood friend, murdered five years before the novel begins in late August 2005. Fantine wants Victor to apply to four-year colleges, but the bright, reflective young man is implicated in a shooting while hanging out with some bad-news friends, and they flee to Louisiana. Fantine feels she’s failed Victor, just as she’s alienated the tightly knit Rio Seco community by getting an education and moving into the wider world. The ties of kinship remain strong, however, and Fantine heads to Louisiana in search of Victor with her close-mouthed father, who has his own history of violence provoked by white brutality. In a slam-bang finale as Hurricane Katrina roars into Plaquemines Parish, Straight deftly mingles a gripping saga of survival with a moving depiction of Fantine’s emotional journey toward commitment and reconciliation.

Deeply rooted in the African-American experience, yet filled with insights that resonate for anyone seeking to make a better life without disowning the past. Straight writes about the thorny subject of race with sensitivity and nuance.