Lincoln, Christine. Sap Rising. Vintage, New York. 2001. F;2/17.
This writer is fêted by Oprah Winfrey and many others as a black female who, abused as a child and then addicted in adolescence lifted herself out of a seemingly hopeless mess, went to university, and became a successful fiction writer. Whatever combination of talent, toughness, and good luck enabled this, there’s no question she did it. And I don’t have to apply any benefit of the doubt or critical affirmative action in concluding that this collection of short stories is pretty close to first-rate.
The stories are “linked”, featuring black families spanning a couple of generations in the (I believe) fictional town of Grandville. Through the first half of the twelve stories I was kind of happily cruising, enjoying the down-home (if maybe just a shade overly black-folksy) cadence and characters’ deeply-felt responses to small town reality. Suddenly in Winter’s Wheat a complex set of events and a fortuitous discovery shock a previously diffident mama’s-boy into coming of age. Within another story or two the hidden linkages of generations in the town slowly developed like an old black and white print in a chemical bath, and a previously obscure order and significance emerged.
Abuse and addiction, along with sex, small-town shame and opprobrium, some violence, and a rank streak of traditional male chauvinism drive and maintain emotion. I’m a bit reminded of Julia Elliott’s The Wilds, where pre-adolescent and teenage characters peek over the edge of (or stumble into) the abyss of adulthood. There is a solid credibility to these struggling young small-town characters, even for someone like me raised in the affluent city. Testing one’s honesty discovering that cruelty, sex, kindness, and violence are part of grownup human traffic, and figuring out how one feels about that, isn’t confined to black small-town America. 9.1/8.7.