Glorious is like nothing else I’ve ever read. And I read a lot. Author Bernice McFadden uses sparse language yet still manages to create searing images for the reader.
The book opens with the young heroine Easter witnessing a brutal lynching in post -Reconstruction South. This becomes the jumping off point for Easter’s nomadic trek through the rest of her life. She leaves this violent town and joined a traveling circus. There she meets the enigmatic entertainer Rain.
Six-foot, red-boned, green-eyes, Geechee girl with close-cut curls the color of straw. She was barefoot and Easter thought Rain had the prettiest toes she had ever seen. She wore a yellow-feathered boa coiled around her neck. Pg. 34
Rain becomes a mentor, of sorts, helping Easter navigate the wholly awkward phase of adolescence. Easter, either abused or ignored her entire short life, develops feelings for Rain. Aware of Easter’s immaturity, Rain sends her on to New York, eager for her to have a life she never could.
Easter lands in the midst of Harlem, during the peak of its literary renaissance. She goes to parties with Zora Neal Hurston and Langston Hughes. She becomes a celebrated author in her own right. Easter pens a brilliant novel, entitled Glorious, and enters it into a contest. Unbeknownst to her, a jealous “negrophile” steals the story and enters it as her own. Easter is disgraced when the judges assume she was the plagiarist.
The balance of the novel traces Easter’s life into old age, where she reflects upon the choices she’s made along the way.
McFadden’s prose is incredibly clear and straightforward. There is no grey area, no smoke and mirrors. While her characters are delicate and layered, they are crystal clear.
In telling this story, mostly chronologically, McFadden skips years, or even decades. The acts of the book are meant to be pages of a scrapbook, not a detailed diary. These are moments and scenes and episodes in Easter’s life.
The plot is simple and the style is matter-of-fact, but descriptions are still vivid. Here, McFadden describes New York City on a spring morning.
The store owners spotted spring’s flouncing, flowered skirt way off in the distance and in preparation for her arrival sent their boys out with bucket and brush to scrub the pavement clean. Massive pots of lavender were set to boil and then poured out into the street to wash away the stench of stool and piss left behind by the police horses and stray canines. The fruit and vegetable vendors added a little extra shine to their apples and stacked them pyramid-style. Work rags popped and snapped against leather in a way they hadn’t all winter long, and the shoeblacks sang in that ancient, mysterious way. Pg. 89
Her storytelling is affecting. She approaches old themes but makes them feel fresh and unpredictable. Easter’s unlikely tale is an accomplished work of fiction, with plenty of true-to-life details to bring her to life.
See Alfrie Woodard talk about Glorious: http://bernicemcfadden.com/glorious.html
My sincere thanks to Crossroads Writer’s Conference who first posted this review on their site. McFadden will be a featured author at the conference in 2013.
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Akashic Books (May 1, 2010)
Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.3 inches
2 thoughts on “GLORIOUS by Bernice McFadden”
Spot-on. I read Glorious a few years ago and found McFadden’s language very striking and memorable as well. How exciting she’ll be at the writing conference! Would love to hear her talk about her work.