Monday, July 12, 2010

Sugar by Bernice McFadden — 240 pgs


Book CoverSugar Lacey has just moved to Bigelow, Arkansas in an effort start anew. Though she longs for a normal life, Sugar is far from normal. A prostitute since her adolescence, she is a hard woman accustomed to consorting with even harder men, and finds that she is always on the outskirts of life looking in. When Sugar's new next door neighbor Pearl Taylor comes by for a visit intending to make a new friend, the two women's lives become inexplicably entwined forever. Pearl is a modest and unassuming housewife and the tragedy of her young daughter's murder more than 15 years before comes swimming back into her life with her first glimpse at Sugar's face. Though the two women have a rocky start, soon their friendship is cautiously growing, much to the chagrin and anger of their neighbors and townsfolk. Sugar begins to find herself nestled in the family she once dreamed of having and Pearl finds herself learning to be more adventurous in her life, sharing her time and love with a woman who she soon considers kin. When an unexpected relationship begins to blossom in Sugar's life, she yearns to leave her past behind and move on towards a more respectable and safe life, not realizing that her past has clung to her too tightly to ever be shaken off. In this poignant and earnest story, two women searching for redemption and healing end up finding the solace they need in one another. But will it be enough to right the wrongs of their pasts?

A few months ago, I had the great pleasure of reading my first book by Bernice McFadden. It was a novel called Glorious and it was an excellent read for me. When getting ready to review this book, I had wondered if the two books would be similar at all and if I would enjoy this second book as much as I did the first. What I found in this book was an enthralling story that weaves its way among two unforgettable characters and a story that rivaled Glorious in its messages and complexity.

When the story opens up, the reader is privy to the terrible circumstances surrounding the murder of Pearl's daughter, Jude. Though the incident is dealt with in an oblique fashion, it sets the mood for the electric and volatile story to come. Jumping forward to the immersion into Sugar's life and circumstances, we meet a woman trapped within behaviors that are slowly wrecking her. Sugar is not a wishy-washy character who fumbles her way through her predicaments; Rather, she is strong and outspoken, turning her back on the society that surrounds her before they get the chance to turn their backs on her. She never feels the need to mix with the people around her, knowing that she is fundamentally different than they are, a woman damaged beyond repair by her choice of life.

When Pearl and Sugar do finally meet face-to-face, there is not a lot of feel-good friendship between them. Though Pearl is struggling mightily to be a good neighbor and possibly a friend, Sugar rebuffs her instantly and won't let her get a toehold into her heart. That the two women will become great companions is uncertain, but as a reader, I could see that they both desperately needed one another. As the book progresses, the two become many things to each other and there is a sense of cohesion between their relationship and the relationships of the women who starred in Glorious. The two became not only friends but mentors to each other in a way, in addition to sharing a mother/daughter like bond. I think McFadden does a great job exploring these issues and friendships between women. They become all and everything to each other, each fitting into the roles that have been missing from the other's life. I thought the relationship between Pearl and Sugar was very complex and multifaceted. Each woman seemed to be unaware of her importance to the other. They were willing to put everything on the line for each other, to change the shapes of their hearts to fit one another's needs.

As the story winds forward, Pearl and Sugar begin to explore different aspects of life together. Pearl especially becomes more open to experience and whimsy at the behest of Sugar and finds a way to live that doesn't involve shutting down her emotions. Sugar becomes more open as well, and I would dare to say, a bit more refined. It's interesting to compare both of the women and try to discover which one was growing and changing the most. On the surface, it would seem that Pearl was experiencing the most change, but in pondering the subtle changes that were taking places in Sugar, I begin to question my early assertions. Both women exhibited courage of different kinds and both began to see that the lives they led were not what would ultimately fulfill them. It was only through the reflection of the other woman beside them that they were able to have these revelations.

I really liked that McFadden refused to moralize in this tale. Yes, Sugar was a prostitute, but I never felt that there was judgment of her in the writing. Instead, there was a clear and concise accounting of flaws and attributes, leading the reader to be more open to a woman that was far from innocent. Pearl, on the other hand, was the embodiment of innocence for most of the book. Both women got the same loving treatment in the narrative, for there was neither condemnation nor aggrandizement of either. I think the balance in the writing of this book must have been hard to achieve and just reading it made me marvel at McFadden's skill. Though the book does straddle dark themes and issues, I think it also speaks of great hope and, ultimately, a bit of redemption in some ways. The conclusion of this book is mired in complexity and depth, and though it doesn't have a sugary sweet happy ending, the reader is ultimately able to reach some closure in regards to the two women and their friendship.

This was an amazingly interesting and deep book that kept me mired in its complexity. Though the plot was very dark, it was dense and satisfying in a way that I really appreciated. The layers of characterization and pathos was continually intriguing, and when I finally turned the last page, I felt satisfied and enriched in a way that I haven't felt in a long while. If you've never read anything by McFadden, I heartily suggest you try this book. It is definitely a page turning feast when it comes to execution, and if you are looking for a more serious read, this is the pick for you. A great read: Recommended.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

21 comments:

Sandy Nawrot said...

In reading the reviews, this book sounds so compelling for so many reasons. Excellent review! One day I hope to read it..

Amy said...

This sounds like a really interesting book. Definitely one that I will be adding to the wish list. Great review.

Bernice L. McFadden said...

What a wonderful and heartfelt review! Thank you...

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I really liked this book. I loved the role that sweet potato pie played in the book too! But I thought the tragedy at the beginning had a gross part to it that was totally unnecessary and I wonder why the author felt she had to add that. But the rest of the book was great, in my opinion!

Booklogged said...

Beautiful and well written review. I haven't heard of this author or this book but I'm adding it to "the' list.

Hannah Stoneham said...

THis is such an interesting and interested review - thanks for sharing. I have read a lot about this book and it is clearly compelling. Thanks for sharing

Hannah

Aarti said...

What a great review, Heather! I have heard nothing but good about this author and particularly this book- I'll have to put her on my BUY list.

Nymeth said...

This sounds like such a great book. I love the fact that the author neither criticised not glorified either of the characters and their life choices. As always, an amazing review!

bermudaonion said...

That does sound wonderfully written. I think it would take a lot of compassion not to moralize a story like that.

Jenny said...

I have heard a lot about this author, and I definitely want to try her books. I am not generally the biggest fan of Southern fiction, so I kind of have to gear myself up for it before I can give such books a try. From what everyone's said, this author is well worth it!

Suko said...

Excellent review! It really sounds like a compelling book.

Serena said...

sounds like an interesting book...thanks for the review.

Melissa M said...

I don't mind dark, and I love unlikely friendships, so on my WL it goes!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Oh, I have this book on my shelf, and I've been waiting for bright, light days to read it. I got it in early spring, and wasn't in the mood for the deep intense read that you describe.

It does sound wonderful, though, and I'll make sure I read it in the next few months ... your passionate review will push me to it!

Diane said...

Awesome review job Heather. I wanted to read this one, but just couldn't....subject matter...

Vasilly said...

This sounds like an absolutely fantastic book! You wrote such a great review of this! This is going to the top of my TBR list!

Darlene said...

Great review! I agree, this was an amazing book that I really enjoyed as well. A very deep and emotional story. I have Glorious on my shelf - just need some time to read it.

Meg said...

Probably not a novel I would have picked up on my own, but your review definitely has my interest piqued! Sounds very intriguing, and I appreciate that you gave us mcuh information about the novel without ruining it for me with spoilers. Thanks!

Anna said...

Sounds like I'm going to have to read this one. I recently finished Glorious (will be reviewing it soon) and it was a great book. Thanks for the recommendation!

Lisa said...

Another blogger sent me her copy of this book and it really has been kind of languishing. But you really have made me want to move it up the list of books I'm planning on reading.

mynovelreviews said...

This sounds like an engrossing novel - yet another one to add to my tbr's...

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