Friday, September 22, 2017
Judy Reene Singer, IN THE SHADOW OF ALABAMA
The story of a 53-year-old woman excavating her father's traumatizing past--a stint as the Jewish supervisor in charge of an all-black Housekeeping Crew for planes in WWII--by way of interviews with one of the men who served under him. At the end of the book, in a section, "How this book came to be," the author explains that the book is largely autobiographical; this story is her father's story. The historical sections, which are compelling, reflect a world that is inhumane and brutal in its racism; but Rachel's story, about how she can't commit to David who loves her, how she pushes people away because she never learned what love is, how she refuses a therapist's help, how she cruelly refuses to empathize with an abused horse, felt flat and too pat to me. I know I was supposed to feel for Rachel, with her cold and embittered father, her worn-out and disaffected mother, her sister who can only overeat and grab belongings to fill the hole of lovelessness inside her. But I found myself impatient with Rachel; she seems to have insights throughout and yet purposefully remains stuck in her behavior, and so her sudden revelation and change at the end seemed, to me, unearned. I did like much of the writing; one of my favorite lines: "[Nature] can take a heart that has lived like an empty barrel, echoing angrily with noise from the past, and fill it with hope. Love, even."