Two of late summer’s most anticipated novels are widely hailed. William Kent Krueger has canceled his lengthy nationwide tour for “Lightning Strike,” which would have started this week, due to concerns about COVID. Honoree Fanonne Jeffrers will be discussing “The Love Songs of WEB Du Bois” virtually this week presented by Rain Taxi Review.
‘THUNDERBOLT” by William Kent Krueger (Atria Books, $ 27)
There was a bench on the sidewalk, and he sat down and allowed himself the indulgence of reverie. Under a blue sky and a buttery yellow sun, with a cool breeze on his face, the weight of a new badge on his chest, and the attendant responsibilities rested on his shoulders, he considered a summer long ago when he had first started trying to unravel the mystery hat had been his father.
So begins William Kent Krueger’s new thriller Cork O’Connor, 18th in this series and a prequel to his previous books starring O’Connor, the sheriff of Tamarack County in northern Minnesota.
It’s 1989 and Cork, newly sworn in as sheriff, remembers the summer of 1963 when he was 12 and 13, on the cusp of adulthood and hoping to help his sheriff father, Liam, in an investigation into the apparent suicide of an Indian man.
It’s a joy for O’Connor fans to meet characters whose future we know from the previous books. It takes place, of course, in Aurora, the small town on the shores of Iron Lake (title of the first book in this series), near the Iron Lake Anishinaabe reserve, where Cork’s blood grandmother lives. , Dilsey. Cork’s family includes her mother, Jo, and they have Native American friends we know well, including Sam Winter Moon, owner of Sam’s Place, where Northland’s best burgers are served, and Henry Meloux, a young Mide or healer. and strong is this book but just as wise as he is in the later books when he is almost 100 years old.
When Cork and his pals Billy and Jorge hike along the boundary waters, they find the body of Billy’s uncle, Big John Manydeeds, hanging from a tree in Lightning Strike, a clearing in the middle of a large stand of ancient … white pine and mixed hardwood grows in the center of which is a burnt log structure that has been struck by lightning. The Indians believed it was a sacred place and it was burnt down because it was raped by someone who built it.
Cork’s father believes Big John committed suicide. He had been a notorious drinker, but people on the res insisted that he had stopped drinking. They asked Liam to investigate further, but Cork’s father had found bottles of alcohol behind the deceased’s cabin and an autopsy confirmed his alcohol level to be high.
Big John’s death comes at a time of heightened tensions between Indians and Whites in the county. The Ojibwa were still angry with the effects of the Indian Relocation Act of 1956, under which the reservations ended. People saw this as another in a long history of government attempts to get rid of Indians, including forcibly taking their children and sending them to residential schools where they were often abused.
While Liam firmly believes that John’s death was suicide, the body of a young Indian girl is found in a lost hole known only to the Ojibwa. This aggravates the tension between whites and Native Americans. Even Cork’s grandmother is angry with Liam for not digging into Big John’s death.
Their anger turns on Cork’s father. After Cork argues with a child who insults the dead girl, his father’s assistant Joe Meese warns the boy:
“Things are happening here like I have never seen them before. I don’t know what’s behind it or why, but I do know that you and your family are at the heart of it. You’re kind of like a target right now. Be careful.”
When Cork’s father has doubts and begins to suspect that Big John may have been murdered, Cork asks permission to do his own research. Liam sees no harm in it and Henry Meloux tells Cork and his friends to “follow the crumbs” like Hansel and Gretel. The boys don’t know what this means, but they begin to investigate a connection between the death of the tall Indian and the young woman.
As Cork pursues the truth, he twice sees a “towering dark shape” which he believes is the spirit of Big John.
“Lightning Strike,” which received a star-rated Library Journal review, encompasses everything that devoted Krueger readers love about his books – a curvy plot, characters that come to life on the page, and a deep understanding of these people as well as its lush descriptions of the changing colors of the surfaces of Iron Lake in the changing weather and the smell of wood pine.
“WEB DU BOIS ‘LOVE SONGS” by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers (Harper, $ 28.99)
I opened the paper and touched the edge of the daguerreotype inside. It was a photo of three girls that looked more than solemn. They looked stern, as if they preferred not to be disturbed. All three of them frowned so deeply that they looked sullen. My breath caught – one of those girls was Eliza Two, my great-great-great-great-grandmother.
“If it’s not the great American novel, it’s a mighty attempt to make one. This is what Kirkus Review thinks of the wonderful debut novel by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers.
Publishers Weekly, in a star-studded review, called it “a staggering and ambitious saga.” … Themes of family, class, higher education, feminism and colourism produce many rich layers. Readers will be shocked.
Jeffers, an award-winning author of five poetry books, teaches creative writing at the University of Oklahoma where she is an associate professor of English.
She will discuss her novel virtually at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, August 25, presented by Rain Taxi Review, joined in the conversation by Lissa Jones-Lofgren, Twin Cities radio and podcast host. The program is free, but registration is required at: raintaxi.com/honoree-fanonne-jeffers/.
Featured in most major publications as one of the most anticipated books of the summer, it is the story of three fair-skinned Geoff Garfield daughters and his wife, Belle, both graduates of the university. The eldest daughter, Lydia, hides a childhood trauma that eventually leads her to use the drugs her husband sells. Coco is a genius and a lesbian doctor.
The narrator is sassy and ambitious Ailey Pearl Garfield, who wants to become the first African American to earn a doctorate in history at her university.
Interspersed with contemporary history are the “songs,” quotes from Du Bois’s writings that feature the stories of Garfield ancestors, white and black as well as Cherokee, the tribe who were driven from their homes and moved to Oklahoma when the whites wanted their land.
There are the stories we’ve heard and read – the rape of black women and girls (one particularly cruel character embodies all of that horror), the deep fear of whites on the part of enslaved men and women, and the emotional and mental strength it took for slaves to survive.
Jeffers places particular emphasis on female slaves, who raise their own children and the half-white children begotten by the master. A mother heals the face of her beautiful daughter with a knife and cuts all her hair so that she is not tempted by the master.
Jeffrers’ evocation of these strong women is so moving, so real, that it gives new meaning to the terrible practice of slavery.
We follow Ailey through college, where we learn colorism among her classmates, such as the lighter-skinned women sought after by sororities, and her experiences with men.
Northerners unfamiliar with the South might marvel at the emphasis everyone places on good manners and raising children to be courteous to their elders, as well as the practice of congregating on wide porches. . When a character builds a Saltbox-style house in New England, people are appalled. Where’s the porch? Where do people sit to talk?
It’s also a place romance, the small town of Chicasetta, Georgia. When Ailey is unhappy, she returns to the farm that was once a plantation and visits her loved ones.
“WEB Du Bois Love Songs” is 790 pages long, but it reads like 150 pages, so adept at writing perfect dialogue, as well as looking into the hearts of his characters, is Jeffers. His amazing feat is to keep all the balls in the air. There are dozens of characters coming in and out of the narrative, and in the end, she brings them all together in Ailey’s research.
If you are looking for a late summer book, this is the one for you. You will become emotionally involved with the characters.