Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Black Water Rising Just Might Be the Best Book I've Read All Year


I read multiple books each week -- the last month or so being the exception, what with returning to teaching and making lesson plans and such. Most books are fairly good at doing their jobs -- they hold my attention, provide entertainment, make me think, educate me on new and interesting topics. Every once in a while, a book comes along and insinuates itself high above the rest.

Last week, Attica Locke's debut novel Black Water Rising became one such book, a step ahead of even the "good" books. It is an beautifully written novel in which every literary element works perfectly. I'm not sure I could do such a book justice with my usual review. Instead, I'll let the literary elements speak for themselves, as well as Locke's own words via quotes I jotted down from the book as I read:

  • Plot: Lawyer Jay Porter and his pregnant wife embark upon a boat ride for her birthday celebration, only to stumble into the midst of a crime with far-reaching proportions. As Locke leads readers through the forward-moving action, she also flashes back to previous events of importance. Jay's past as a civil rights movement organizer and his preacher father-in-law's involvement with the local dockworkers' unions, combined with the crime from the book's beginning make for a fast-paced, high-interest plot. On her website, Locke recalls the events in her own life which inspired her to write Jay's story.
  • Characters: Locke creates multi-layered characters who boast both positive and negative personality traits, causing them to fairly jump off the page. Never has a book been filled with more realistic, non-stereotypical characters. One of my favorites later in the book is Jay's wife Bernie; in the book's first few chapters, she comes across as naive or easily pliable, perhaps not very intelligent. Later in the book, the reader realizes that Locke carefully constructed this ruse in order to show depth in the character.
  • Setting: Houston, Texas, 1981. As a reader, you can almost smell and see and taste Houston in the pages of Black Water Rising. Never has an author done such an exceptional job at painting a picture with descriptions of setting. The "underbelly" of the city, the bayou, the downtown monuments, the streets and neighborhoods of Houston -- all add to the novel's overall appeal.
  • Writing Style: The only way to experience the writing style of this book is to read Locke's words. Here's a small taste of her writing, through some of my favorite quotes:
"King was dead by then, Malcolm and two Kennedys." (128)

"This is what his life has done to him" (144)

"They are each other's history, capable, with just a glance, of unlocking hidden truths." (225)

"He has not slept a solid night in days. Or is it years? He gets mixed up sometimes." (288)

"An hour later, the sight of his wife is breathtaking. . . . He can hear voices inside the house, the clinking of silverware and plates. He smells garlic and fried onions, stewed tomatoes and collards brewing on the stove. But he is in no hurry to leave this spot, this moment with his wife." (296-297)

According to her website, Attica Locke is now hard at work on her second novel. I, for one, will be waiting with bated breath for its release.

More buzz about Black Water Rising:

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