When Cassie and Judith catch wind that their runaway father is set to inherit a passel of money in far-off Virginia, they take off to claim their share.
Cassie and Judith are half sisters in Heron-Neck, Mississippi, in the early 1950s. Cassie is black and Judith is white, and they’re both poor: Cassie works alongside her mother and grandmother in their family-owned laundry, while Judith helps her own mother deliver that laundry to the wealthy white mansions up the hill. Their father is Bill Forrest, but he’s a nonentity: he’s run off, and it’s only by way of a mysterious letter that arrives from Virginia that the girls learn he’s gone to claim his inheritance. Judith, who dreams of becoming a radio star in New York City, convinces Cassie that they should find their father, prove themselves as his progeny, and claim their share of the money. Then they take off in an old, broken-down junk car. This is the debut novel from Feldman, and it’s a magnificent one. Her work is reminiscent of both William Faulkner and Toni Morrison, but her voice is entirely her own and utterly original. Feldman’s prose blisters and pops with sparks. Cassie’s grandmother tells her to be wary of Judith: “no matter how twice related you are, she’s no kin to you,” she warns. “Kin has a feeling for how far back the blood goes.…She’ll never have that feeling for you.” But there is a tart sweetness to Judith and Cassie’s interactions. In this novel, most things are not as they seem, and Feldman doesn’t hew too close to reality. The sisters encounter mules who were once men, discover towns that appear in one place on the map and another on the road, and Cassie even spends a few days as a white girl. Eventually she decides to return to the skin she was born with; as a mysterious woman tells her near the end: “What’s important is the past.”
A searing and magical debut by a monumental new talent.