REVIEW: In the Fields by Willow Aster (and October Book Club pick)
Dear Ms. Aster:
Because of the emotionally moving content and the type of story, an interracial romance set in the 1970s South, I thought this would be the perfect October book club read for Dear Author.
It’s possible that this book is overtly racist and that I should have recognized it. There are a few elements that bothered me, but more from a story telling aspect rather than from a racial sensitivity. Another reader may have a totally different perspective which is why I thought it would make such a good book for discussion purposes.
The story spans six years (but seems much longer) from 1971 to 1977. In 1971, Caroline Carson lives with her alcoholic father and her former beauty queen mother in Tulma, Tennessee. She knows that her parents wouldn’t approve but Caroline’s favorite person is her classmate, Isaiah Washington. Isaiah is black and her parents tell her that they stick with their own kind. But Caroline doesn’t really understand why so she continues her friendship which primarily consists walking home from school with Isaiah and talking to him on the phone.
Caroline’s life isn’t easy. Her mother is often gone and one day her father disappears and just doesn’t come back. Then she comes home and her mother is gone. Caroline has no money and her refrigerator is getting empty. She finally goes and gets a job cleaning the kitchen at a local diner where she is at least fed. Pretty Caroline is alone in the world and she’s attracted the attention of some unsavory elements of Tulma which leads to disastrous consequences.
Spoiler (spoiler): Show
Caroline spends much of the book being abandoned and finding help in the form of kindness of strangers of both races. Caroline is a plucky heroine but I don’t get the sense that she survives without the assistance of several different people. I wasn’t sure whether that was the theme of the book? I felt like it was an unintentional one if it is.
As it relates to the race issue, it’s part of Caroline’s life but she doesn’t internalize it. I wasn’t sure if that was overly optimistic given her experience and upbringing. Her parents, particularly her mother, is at least a casual racist if not an overt bigot. That Caroline was able to break away from that while living in her small southern town is rather remarkable.
Over all, this is an emotionally moving story but it ddid rely on using several dramatic episodes to power the story rather than actual character development. I didn’t feel Caroline was a different person at the end of the story as she was in the beginning of the story. She was a sweet, loveable girl and grew into a sweet loveable young woman. I have an affinity for southern fiction having spent many an hour in my late teens reading Deborah Smith. Caroline says “the humidity was so thick you could bounce it like a ball.” Early attraction between Isaiah and Caroline is innocently but believably described:
I barely see Isaiah today. In gym, we take a break from the waltz and are divided into teams for dodge ball. I was hoping to have a little chat with Isaiah, but instead I’m running for my life to avoid the ball. He’s on my team, so we’re in close proximity, but neither of us speaks to the other. It’s hard to not stare at him, but I try to save all my looks for our walk home.
I appreciated it didn’t shy away from incidences of racism but told a fairly even handed story of evil coming from both sides, no matter the color. One knock could be that the people of color that Caroline meet are primarily working class – construction, cooks in restaurants, seamstresses while the white people are bankers, owners of motels, former doctors. It could be that was the product of the time – 1970s South – but perhaps the depiction of the socio economic situations of the classes could have been more even handed but I felt like that is kind of nit picking.
The biggest drawback of this story was that there isn’t a ton of romance in it and that while there are few point of view scenes from Isaiah, he pretty much sounded exactly like Caroline. His scenes were far less effective. The sexual tension in the story is fairly low and it’s definitely a closed door romance. Still I want to see more stories like this in romance. C+
I hope Dear Author readers will join me on October 15th when I’ll host a book chat on this book.
The story was ok for me. I felt like there was a lot more than could have been explored.
I was excited for this one but then I just couldn’t get into it. Something about the writing style, and I’m not even sure what, really didn’t resonate with me. But I might try again.
If you want to read an interrracial love story that ROCKS read “The Sleeping Night” by Barbara Samuel. Post WWII Deep South. Didn’t think the author could make it work but BOY HOWDY she does. The white girl’s non racism is totally explained (and explained well) and the ending is a bit deus ex machina, but for there to be a HEA (and there is!) a deus ex machina is nessescary, particularly for this time and place. I had resisted reading this book for a loooooong time, because I was worried I wouldn’t believe in the HEA but that was a mistake. The HEA works and the story is BEAUTIFUL.
I feel like interracial love stories are so spare on the ground and this a shame. Having been in my own “interracial love story” for almost twenty years now, it would be nice for more contemporary (or yeah historical ) authors to “go there.” So few do. Damn shame.Or maybe people could reccomend others that I am not aware of? This particular book doesn’t sound like it would interest me. Closed door romances and kinda clueless heroines that don’t learn survival skills just don’t float my boat…..
I think I’ll check this book out, since the main reason I started writing was to promote more interracial stories.
I did read the look inside excerpt on Amazon. While Isaiah reads initially (to me) as the saintly, loyal minority trope, I’m hoping he’s not like that throughout the novel. I also noted that he has green eyes, which is another trope sometimes used in fiction to set the male character apart, but when it concerns a minority character, the debate may be that it’s used to make the character more identifiable with non-minority readers (Don’t shoot me, I’m just pointing this out, and as I stated, it is debatable. One well known book that did this was Memoirs of a Geisha, where the lead female character had light eyes. I think they were blue if I remember correctly). Anyway, I’ll be reading this over the weekend, as I did like the author’s phrasing/writing style.
@wikkidsexycool: Both he and Caroline are pretty saintly.
As for his eyes, I wasn’t quite sure what color they were because there was never any indication that he was mixed although I don’t know a lot about African eye coloring. I wondered if they were hazel-ish? here’s the description:
I’m reading it as green irises with gold around the pupil, possibly Central Heterochromia that maybe someone more familiar with this can explain. It can be quite beautiful in contrast to that individual having brown skin, but the gray, green or even blue eyes I’ve seen on those of African descent usually means there’s been a merging of black and white, or even white Hispanic in their family lineage.
ETA: The “flecks” description makes me think of Hazel, but since it goes on to state “in green” I’m thinking green is the dominant color of his eyes. My eyes are brown with gray around the rims, courtesy of too much cholesterol.
I’m picturing Jada Pinkett Smith’s eyes’ colour ( stunning):
Cheers @mari, I’m a few months shy of 20 years in my “interracial romance” too. Would love to hear about more that don’t suck.
This sounds like an interesting story – but the author really should have Googled her hero’s name beforehand. I cannot read this review without thinking of the disgraced homophobic African-American actor from Grey’s Anatomy.
Mari, thanks so much for that review. Several people pointed it out to me, and you won the book one reader for sure. So, xoxo.
(I, too, had a happy, long marriage to an AA man. We are divorced, but still friendly, and have two children, one grandchild, and our families are still very friendly with the other.)