Tuesday, July 5, 2016
ABSALOM'S DAUGHTERS by Suzanne Feldman
Seldom has a debut so absorbed and touched me. It is simply magnificent - beautiful, funny, wise and filled with heart. Suzanne Feldman has given us two sisters in Heron-Neck, Mississippi in the early 1950s - each are poor and both work hard. Born of the same father Cassie is black and Judith is white.
Cassie lives and works with her mother and grandmother doing laundry. Both Cassie and Judith pile their carts with freshly done laundry to tote up the hill to luxe mansions where the white folks live. We can forget their father as he has been long gone. Cassie’s grandmother warns her about Judith by saying, “no matter how twice related you are, she’s no kin to you.” Nonetheless, Cassie is drawn to Judith, becoming almost protective of her. Feldman’s descriptions of their conversations are telling, they shine with wit and truth.
When the girls learn that their father has gone to Virginia to claim his inheritance an unforgettable road trip, one like no other begins. Judith believes she can be a radio star in New York City so she convinces Cassie that they should find their father, prove they are his progeny and claim their share of the money. They go off in an unbelievably old junked car that belches steam, sleep behind billboards, and try to follow a route on a map so old that the state lines are blurred. For the reader Feldman has deliciously introduced us to unreality - the sisters come across mules who were once men, find towns that seem to be one place on the map and somewhere else on the road, Cassie even spends some time as a white girl. They meet kindness and adversity as each searches for her own freedom.
Many may be reminded of William Faulkner as they read Absalom’s Daughters yet Feldman’s voice is entirely her own, brilliantly so. She writes with total authority, entertaining us, engaging us, and at times provoking us.