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October Suite: A Novel Paperback – September 24, 2002


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This first novel by the author of 1994's admired story collection Rattlebone tells a simple story in a sweetly straightforward, lyrical style that builds a surprising amount of power as it moves quietly along. It is the tale of October Brown (she chose her own name); her sister, Vergie; the two elderly aunts who took the girls in when their father murdered their mother; and how they learn to deal with each other and the world. October, an unworldly but determined creature who teaches school in 1950s Missouri, makes a mistake when she falls for a married man and has a baby. Traumatized by little David's birth, she agrees in a weak moment to give him up to Vergie, who has always longed for a child, and the act shadows both their lives. Eventually, October finds a man of her own in jazzman Leon, and the sisters begin tentatively to reach an understanding, assisted by an amazing ghost from their past. Clair tells her story with a pitch-perfect feel for the time and the people African-Americans just beginning to sense the rising tide of the civil rights revolution and her character drawing is uncannily exact, from the anxious Vergie and the kindly but never cloying aunts to the delicately shaded Leon, who moves from brash ambition to calm acceptance. Above all, there is October herself, a heroine full of unostentatious strength who sheds a kind of radiance on the reader. Agent, Molly Friedrich. (Oct. 9)Forecast: The book's editor, Dan Menaker, has sent a warm letter about the book to booksellers, and independents, especially with numerous African-American customers, can be expected to hand-sell with enthusiasm. It's a quiet book, but strong reviews can help it make the kind of noise it deserves.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-October Brown and her older sister, Vergie, were children when their father killed their mother, an event that traumatized the girls for years. Their aunts raised them and told them nothing about his fate except that he died in prison, but as time goes on, October seeks more details. As a young black teacher in Kansas in the 1950s, she has professional problems as well. She is falsely accused of corporally punishing a student, and is kicked out of her lodging because of rumors that she had an intimate relationship with a married man-the father of one of her pupils. After she falls in love with a married man who abandons her when she becomes pregnant, she returns to her family in Ohio. Once the baby is born, she agrees to let Vergie and her husband raise him as their own. Within weeks, October leaves Ohio once again to resume her teaching career in Kansas, regains her emotional equilibrium, but soon regrets having given her son to her sister and brother-in-law. Many teens will enjoy this insight into the personal life of a young teacher. They will be struck by how African-American teachers of Wyondotte County, KS, had to live with social restrictions like those that strict parents might impose on adolescents today. Other teens may be interested in Clair's exploration of the troubled relationship between sisters.
Joyce Fay Fletcher, Rippon Middle School, Prince William County, VA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 24, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375760954
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375760952
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,441,320 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By J.C. Wallington on November 28, 2001
Format: Hardcover
They call October Suite a literary novel. All I know is that I enjoyed this story. It was written so vividly descriptive and lyrically that I felt as if I could see the scenes unfolding in front of me.
Imagine you are a "colored" teacher in the 1950's in Kansas. You are held to a high standard and your every move is being scrutinzed. Then, imagine you meet a man only to find out he's married. He gives you the line of leaving his wife. Then imagine you find yourself pregnant and alone. You have to return to Ohio to your family to have a baby. You can't not bond with him and you give him to your sister. Imagine, a little later you decide you want him back, but you made a promise. What do you do? Once you pick up October Suite, you will see how Ms October Brown copes with her decisions. You will also find how events of her life early on effects her life later.
I found this book to be a interesting story in a time period that has always interested me. It's a slow read, but one you will want to savor because the story is so good.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Eric S. Williams on November 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I read "Rattlebone" in 1995 and have been waiting for six years for Maxine Clair's next novel. "October Suite" was well worth the wait. It is not hyperbole to for me to say that this is the best novel I have read in years. Since I started armature writing myself, I have had problems entering a book in any emotional sense. "October Suite" changed this. The story does not really fill in a blank part of Irene's (the main character from "Rattlebone") life. Rather it takes one robust but minor character and tangentially tells the story of her life and struggles. This struggle is partially revealed in "Rattlebone" but takes on a full life in "October Suite".
This is in many ways a modern epic. It has a tragic hero in October Brown, fighting to regain her life from a youthful indiscretion that cost more than she could have foreseen. It has villains. James is the archetype of evil married men who destroy the lives of young women to satisfy his needs. Vergie, perhaps the character in any book that I have hated the most, is driven by a Nixonian paranoia to keep the hero in misery but finds redemption at the end. In all, the characters become the family down the street that always seems to have a new challenge. We do not know everything about them--just enough to feel for them.
The book only has two weaknesses as I see it. First there is a major contradiction with "Rattlebone". Second, some parts of the book do not really make sense outside of context of Dr. Clair's previous book. This is not to discourage those who have not read that book yet, since after reading "October Suite" they undoubtedly will want to read it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Reader on January 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This novel is a lovely piece of work. A naive woman name October Brown finds out what life serves up when you get involved with a married man and have a child. She also learns that a child needs more than what she is initially willing to give. Through time she discovers that she loves and wants her son,(she gave him up to her sister). She learns the truth about her mother and father, and discovers that no one in this life can go on without their family.
Included in this little tale of words are history and music. This book is a light read, nothing truly indepth, but sparkling with warmth. It is a breath of fresh air, and if you like to read about human nature, this is the perfect addition.
Joy.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Yasmin Coleman on October 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Maxine Claire's debut novel is a beautifully written coming-of-age story about a young woman who struggles to overcome her past while enduring the decisions that she must live with in the present and moving forward to shape a better future.
October Suite is primarily the tale of October Brown and her relationship with her sister, Vergie and the two elderly aunts who raised the girls after their father murdered their mother. October has always been independent, smart and strong-willed, in fact she renamed herself October simply because she liked the name. The story begins in 1950 where we meet October Brown as a twenty-three-year old who's living away from home for the first time. She's a Negro(we were Negroes then) living as a single, first-year teacher, in Kansas. Times were different then. Negro Female Teachers couldn't marry and they definitely couldn't have children out-of-wedlock. So when October is abandoned by her married lover after he discovers that she's pregnant, in order to get her life back on track, she has no choice but to move back home to Ohio with her aunts and her older sister. After the birth of her son, she's numb and suffering post-partum depression. Believing that she wouldn't be a good mother and knowing that her sister has always wanted a child, October decides to give her son to her sister Vergie and her husband. October moves back to Kansas for breathing room and to start over; eventually her broken heart mends and she moves on and starts dating again. But as the years move along she realizes that something is missing and decides that she wants her son back. The resulting conflict that arises threatens to tear apart the two sisters as they both search for what is right for October's son, David.
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