20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Another compelling novel from one of America's best writers,
This review is from: Of Love and Dust (Paperback)
One of Ernest Gaines' greatest talents lies in his ability to make the reader reconsider initial assumptions and prejudices about the characters in his stories. "Of Love and Dust" introduces us to Marcus, a young African-American man awaiting trial for the murder of another man. Apparently more concerned about his flashy wardrobe than the moral burden he should bear for his crime, Marcus quickly alienates much of the black community he enters when he goes to work on a Louisiana plantation owned by the white man who put up his bail. Often disrespectful of those who offer him advice out of concern for his well-being, in the beginning he comes across as a two-bit punk.
But soon his actions catch us in a moral crossfire. On one hand, we admire him because he refuses to kowtow to the racist customs that defined life in the South in the 1940s. On the other hand, however, he shows no respect or sympathy for the deep-set fear that pervades the plantation community, whose members know they will all suffer the violent consequences if anyone tries to turn the caste system on its head. (Gaines' descriptions of that fear make it almost palpable.)
The story takes off when, pushed to the limit by Bonbon, the plantation's Cajun overseer, Marcus is consumed by a quest for revenge. Marcus' first attempt to emasculate Bonbon comes with his unsuccessful seduction of Pauline, Bonbon's African-American mistress and the mother of two of his children. Rebuffed, Marcus turns his attention to Bonbon's white wife, Louise, a lonely and spiritless young woman who seeks from Marcus the love and attention her husband has saved for Pauline.
As the tale moves inexorably toward its predictable conclusion, Gaines adds to the dimension of the characters, gradually revealing how their actions have been influenced -- or even orchestrated -- by powers beyond their control. "Me and you -- what we is?" asks Bonbon. "We little people...They make us do what they want us to do, and they don't tell us nothing. We don't have nothing to say 'bout it, do we?"
Our initial black-and-white assumptions dissolve to gray, and we begin to view with greater sympathy the people caught up in conflict between their greatest desires and the restrictions of society. Even under pressure from insurmountable external powers, however, those people still rebel, in small or great ways, affirming their humanity, their spirit of independence, and their love for one another.