Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Book Review: The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

Two years ago, I called Attica Locke's debut novel one of the best novels I'd read in 2010. Black Water Rising was a phenomenal freshman effort. I don't re-read books, but I may have to revisit it, especially after reading Locke's second book this fall.

A bit about the book: Attica Locke's The Cutting Season takes on a wholly different set of issues and topics than Black Water Rising did two years ago. While Locke's first novel took readers to Houston in the early 1980s, The Cutting Season focuses on both the present day and the Civil War era in Louisiana.

Caren Gray is the manager and curator at Louisiana plantation Bella Vie, where daily pre-Civil War reenactments and tours are available. The mansion is also leased out for parties, weddings, and the like, all of which Caren presides over. She and her nine-year-old daughter Morgan live on the premises, much to the chagrin of Morgan's father Eric. An employee of Obama's White House, Eric would prefer that both Caren and Morgan leave the south behind and move to Washington, D.C.

Louisiana, however, is one place Caren can't bring herself to leave. Raised on Bella Vie, where her mother was the cook for decades, it is the one place Caren feels at home -- and the last place she saw her mother before her death. The Clancy family, her mother's former employers, still own the plantation, although Caren now works for one of the sons.

While Caren's background provides plenty of fodder for plot development, Locke throws a wrench into the storyline from the beginning, when the body of a young field worker is found on the grounds of Bella Vie. The murder mystery becomes intertwined with Caren's life at the plantation, bringing up another murder that was never fully investigated more than 100 years ago -- of a freed slave who just so happens to be one of Caren's ancestors.

Why you want to read it: One of Locke's talents is creating characters with whom her readers will empathize. She also does an excellent job of giving  those characters both good and bad characteristics, so that it is virtually impossible to categorize them as all good or all bad. Caren Gray is a remarkable main character, teeming with life and dynamic in every way. Readers will both feel for her and, at other times, not understand her actions at all -- much as we do with living, breathing people.

Although Houston in 1981 was a feat all its own, Locke does another phenomenal job setting the scene for this novel. The plantation fairly breathes with a life of its own, as does Louisiana. Locke nails the scenes set in New Orleans, as well as the small town where Bella Vie exists. The reader is transported to a time and place, both in the present day scenes and in the references to the Civil War era.

The bottom line: With these two novels, there is no doubt that Locke is making a name for herself in the literary world. She came out of the gate running with Black Water Rising, and she has written another compelling novel with The Cutting Season. While I would choose Black Water Rising as the stronger of the two novels, The Cutting Season was a delight to read, and only makes me wish for more from Attica Locke's talented pen.

About the author: Attica Locke is from Houston, Texas, but now resides in Los Angeles, California, with her husband and daughter. Much of her career has been spent as a screenwriter for major Hollywood film companies. Her first novel Black Water Rising was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and was nominated for an Edgar award, among other accolades. According to her reply to one of my comments about The Cutting Season on Twitter, she is hard at work on her next novel. For more information about Locke and her books, visit her website.


  1. I saw a link to this post of yours on the blog, Bibliophile by the Sea and came right over. I'm reading The Cutting Season now for review later in the month. I haven't read Attica Locke's first book but I'm intrigued and think I will considering how much I'm enjoying this book.

    I only skimmed your review for now but will return when I finish the book. I'm thrilled you liked it so much and your praise of her first book has me convinced I want to read it soon!

    1. You must read BLACK WATER RISING! It is excellent. I will look forward to reading your review and hearing your thoughts on THE CUTTING SEASON. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I completely agree on both fronts. Black Water Rising was one of my favorite reads of 2010 too. While I loved the experience of The Cutting Season (and read it in a single day during the week), I don't think it's quite as strong. Still, I'm eagerly awaiting a long, literary career for Attica Locke.

    1. Me, too! Hopefully, the next one will come sooner than two years (although for quality, a two-year span probably isn't a bad thing).

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