Crater’s (Beneath the Hallowed Hill, 2016, etc.) decades-spanning historical novel follows two different women as they learn to negotiate life in the antebellum South.
In the 1890s, Maggie Winters lives with her African-American mother and white father on his plantation in North Carolina. She’s content with her life—her father gets her a tutor, and she’s surrounded by kind servants—but disquiet creeps in. She hears of frightening “nighttime meetings” of the Ku Klux Klan; encounters a horribly injured African-American woman seeking refuge from her tormentor (“her face was swoll up like a ripe tomato”); and hears of a hanging in the woods. Later, the narrative jumps to the 1950s to tell the story of Maggie and Caroline Hauser, a young white girl with a racist father and an abusive mother who’s Maggie’s friend. After a tragedy occurs, Caroline is placed in Maggie’s care and begins learning about racial equality. Readers follow Caroline as she grows up during the civil rights movement, “soaked in the cadence of [the Rev. Martin Luther King’s] speech, the soaring images, the rhetoric of justice and freedom.” Crater initially develops Maggie’s character well; in the 1890s section, she’s shown to be a lively, observant girl: “I loved walking through the dim as the leaves turned from bright green to oak brown, smelling the musk that gathered in the back of my throat.” In the 1950s, however, she’s only depicted as serving Caroline’s and her mother’s needs. Overall, Crater’s prose is accomplished and her story engaging. That said, although the story avoids many aspects of the white-savior narrative, the “good” white character still remains a strong presence.
An unevenly executed story of racial divisions and alliances.