Take One Candle Light A Room, Susan Straight, Pantheon Books, 2010, 320 pp
Day Five: Susan Straight Week
Now I have come to the end of reading Susan Straight, at least for now. This is her most recent novel, just released in October, 2010, but I am pretty sure she has not come to the end of her stories yet.
Take One Candle Light A Room is almost a sequel to A Million Nightingales. The main character is known as FX when she is out in the world publishing her pieces in travel magazines. At home in Rio Seco, she is Fantine, named after an ancestor who lived with Moinette in Louisiana. The Antoine family, living amidst the orange groves of southern California, knows their history all the way back to Moinette's mother, especially because many of that slave woman's descendants are of mixed race, due to the history of rape perpetrated on black women by white men.
FX is light-skinned enough herself to pass as Italian or Hawaiian. She is the one, as there often is in Susan Straight's novels, who is different from the rest of her family. She is the one who left and whom her mother and sisters will never forgive for doing so.
When this complicated woman returns home to participate in the fifth anniversary remembrance of the murder of Glorette, the best friend of her childhood, she finds that Glorette's son Victor has disappeared. FX has no children of her own. She doesn't even have a boyfriend but Victor is her godson and means more to her than anyone else in the world. He'd been riding with two gangsta friends that weekend and involved in a shooting which left one person dead and one wounded.
So begins a desperate hunt for Victor, taking Fantine and her father across the country on Interstate 10 all the way to New Orleans. As Fantine wrestles with her professional aspirations set against her love for Victor, the long history of more than eight generations of this family comes to light.
Over three hundred pages of road trip, tension and suspense was excruciating. The wonder is that the author could sustain it through about nine hours of reading. That level of anxiety and stress is usually only found in two hours of an action/thriller film. A further wonder is her explication of why race, violence and drugs plague so many young Americans.
Susan Straight never preaches, her tone is never strident and she refrains from cheap emotional tricks. Once again she put me into the lives of the characters, their homes and cars and neighborhoods, as well as into their hearts and minds. She just tells the story but reading it is as close as one can come to living someone else's life. And yet, every book is different from the last. What a great reading adventure I have had. I recommend it!
(Take One Candle Light A Room is available in hardcover by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)