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Fiction Review  

by Bernice L. McFadden
Plume, 2001 (Reissue Edition)
ISBN: 0-452-2822-09

Pleasant surprise.

McFadden’s debut novel is a pleasant surprise. At times, shocking and violent, others startlingly open and honest. The tale, set in Bigelow, Arkansas, a small Southern town, begins with the discovery of the mutilated body of Pearl Taylor’s young daughter, Jude. As Jude’s innocence and life were violated and stilled, so Pearl pauses her own. Time passes, but Pearl is marooned in her own grief. That is until Sugar his town with her wild wigs and curves bursting from the seams of her dresses.  When Sugar moves in next door to the prim Pearl, the rest of the women in the town are interested in cruel gossip; Pearl, mesmerized by Sugar resemblance to Jude, is interested on in being a friend. After some initial awkward attempts to connect, Sugar and Pearl become friends despite their obvious difference. 

Eventually Sugar pulls Pearl from her pious shell; in turn Pearl attempts to show Sugar that prostitution is not the only way for her. As it becomes clear that their husbands and the majority of the men in town are Sugar’s "clients" and that the ladies bond is
strengthening, Pearl’s friends become bent on driving Sugar from the town. 

Sugar’s heart wrenching past, the chronicle of how she became a prostitute is not feed to us immediately. Rather it is offered course by painful course. Her abandonment and subsequent rearing by Arkansas sister/madams and later tribulations in St. Louis and Detroit are intertwined gracefully with the development of her friendship with Pearl. McFadden deftly intertwines gossiping ladies, the melancholy of her prostitution, the sadness and piety of Pearl’s life, and the startling secrets. If McFadden’s storytelling continues to be as fresh and insightful, she should have a long and memorable career.
Tia Blassingame
Southern Scribe Reviews

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