Oprah Book Club® Selection, June 1999:
Twenty-eight-year-old Even Grade is a black man who was orphaned as a child; 15-year-old Valuable Korner is a white girl who might as well have been. Petal, Mississippi, circa 1956, seems an unlikely spot for these two to connect, but it soon becomes apparent in Mother of Pearl
that a friendship across race lines is just one of many miracles waiting to happen in this small Southern town. Melinda Haynes's remarkable debut novel begins in a hot August, when young Val's lifelong friendship with Jackson McClain is starting to change into something more profound, and Even is falling crazy in love with Joody Two Sun, a mixed-race woman with amazing powers.
Woven in and around these two central love stories are myriad other characters, other tales. There is 16-year-old Joleb Green, for example, whose mother was incapacitated by a stroke when he was born, and who was raised by the black housekeeper, Grace. There is Even's friend Canaan, an older black man who spends his time reading Greek tragedy and writing his work "The Reality of the Negro"; Valuable's mother, Enid, the town whore; and Neva and Bea, a lesbian couple who have helped to raise the girl. Until this year, blacks and whites have occupied separate universes, for the most part; then Joleb Green suffers a terrible accident, and it is Joody Two Sun who saves his life and Grace who restores his soul. At the same time, a pregnant Val arrives on Joody and Even's doorstep, hungry for the understanding and acceptance she cannot find at home. Though at first Even is resistant, Val's humanity soon transcends her color in his mind:
Even chuckled and shook his head, happy for a reason he couldn't distinguish other than at that moment of Canaan's near-perfect cast, all seemed right with the world, as right as a thing can be what with a white girl camped out in the middle of the Quarter with no plans of leaving.
Gradually, without really intending it, Joleb, Val, Even, Joody, Grace, and Canaan form something that looks suspiciously like a family--a relationship that will soon be tested to the limit when Val's baby is born.
Melinda Haynes has taken on a Herculean task, crafting a multicharacter story that reaches across racial barriers to encompass an entire community. She doesn't shy away from the ugliness in life--bigotry of every stripe, mean-spiritedness, betrayal, thoughtless cruelty, and death--but what interests her is the potential of the human heart to find space within itself for the most unexpected people. With its strong, lyrical language and fully realized characters, Mother of Pearl is a fine novel and a terrific introduction to a new literary voice. --Alix Wilber
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
In prose both rugged and beautiful, Haynes plumbs the secrets of the South in her stunning debut novel. Set in Petal, Miss., across the Leaf River from Hattiesburg, the narrative opens in the summer of 1956, shortly after Even Grade, a 27-year-old black man, has met Joody Two Sun, a seer whos known as a witch, and not long after Valuable Korner, the 14-year-old daughter of the towns one loose woman, gets her Blessing of Blood, as Joody Two Sun calls it. Evenso named from the note his mother left when she abandoned him at a Memphis orphanageis a decent man, kindheartedly building a family of friends; while Valuable, the daughter of a dying Southern line, an orphan of sorts herself, is deeply in need of family. Valuable and Jackson McLain, the boy down the street, fall in love, and Haynes captures that phenomenon delicately and persuasively. In a heartbeat Valuable is pregnant, and as Jackson is forced to move away, Valuable turns to Joody and Even for support as she carries the baby she comes to think of as Pearl. Despite Evens help, Valuable, whose family hides secrets far darker than this pregnancy, seems doomed to pay for the sins of the past. Indeed, Hayness capacious novel is very much about the justice wrought by destiny, but it is also about finding family, people who nurture, forgive and care for each other; in the novels resolution, those most deserving of love are brought together. Haynes is fearless in portraying her characters flaws, their pettiness and racism, their erring thoughts, but shes also merciful, letting them grow and change during the course of the narrative. While perhaps too many of the characters take the stage, each with tragic accounts of their lives, Haynes nevertheless triumphs with a rare and memorable ensemble. This wise, luminous novel demonstrates her great giftsfor language, courageous storytelling and compassion. BOMC and QPB selections.
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