I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf for at least five years knowing nothing about it. I’m glad that a friend informed me that it was set in the south so I could add it to one more challenge–because sometimes I need that motivation to finally read a book. Really? Yes.
Mother of Pearl, set in the deep south of Mississippi, is about a number of characters who couldn’t be more different from each other. However, an event brings the characters together in an unlikely bond–one that changes everyone’s life forever. At the center of the group is a teenage girl, Valuable Korner, who is struggling to know herself and find her place in the world, and a young man, Even Grade, who is searching for meaning in his life as well as a family of his own. Through these two characters, the plot winds together melding the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the religious and spiritual, the gay and straight, and the black and the white during the 1950s when tolerance was sometimes difficult to find.
While some of the symbolism of the book was lost on me, I couldn’t help but be swept away in Haynes’ rich Southern language. I think I read somewhere that she is also an artist? and it shows in her careful attention to landscape and setting. When I opened the book to read, I was transported from my hot, muggy Dallas to hot, muggy Petal, Mississippi, but everything was so much more beautiful there that I wanted to grab and ice tea (which I don’t drink) and sit on a rocker on my front porch (which I don’t have) to take everything in.
In addition to her ability to write the landscape, Haynes wrote characters that were flawed, funny, sad, heart breaking, and hopeful. I grew to care about the people in this book–including Valuable’s colorful lesbian aunts, Even’s neighbor Canaan who philosophizes on the nature of man, and Joleb, a troubled soul who finally finds his way. I would recommend this book, but I think it would work best in a book club setting where all of the different themes and ideas can be teased out. The book was a little slow getting in to and there is a little bit of language and sex (including taboos such as incest), but the message that we are all human–part of one common world instead of little tiny circles–is one that we can all relate to and learn from.
Laura at Reading Reflections also reviewed it. Have you read it?