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Book Review: Bernice McFadden's 'Glorious'

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Book Review: Bernice McFadden's 'Glorious'

Books

Book Review: Bernice McFadden's 'Glorious'

Book Review: Bernice McFadden's 'Glorious'

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Alan Cheuse reviews Bernice McFadden's new novel, Glorious. It's the story of a black woman born in the South who becomes, briefly, one of the central figures of the Harlem Renaissance.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

In her seventh novel, "Glorious," Brooklyn-based writer Bernice McFadden takes up the life of a Southern black woman who becomes, for a brief moment, a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Alan Cheuse has our review.

ALAN CHEUSE: Easter Bartlett is Georgia-born. In her formative years, in the early 20th century, she discovers, amidst her life of rural poverty and violence, a love of reading and writing.

She also witnesses some of the worst of racist culture in the South. She sees her sister violated and her father unable to raise his head in protest. She sees a lynching, and by the time she's an adolescent, attracted to both women and men, she finds herself traveling with a hoochie-koochie dancer from a carnival, named Rain.

Her reading leads to work as a schoolteacher, but Easter becomes pregnant by one of her students and, with a little help from friends, flees north to Harlem. There, she takes a day job in a beauty salon and seriously begins her vocation as a writer.

Her life, echoing some aspects of the lives of Zora Neale Hurston and Nella Larsen, blossoms in amazing and painful fashion just as the cultural movement we know as the Harlem Renaissance comes into bloom.

McFadden tells Easter's story with zest and affection, as when she first falls under dancer Rain's magnetic spell or when she first sees Harlem, where the air, McFadden writes, is sticky sweet and peppered with perfume, sweat, sex, curry, salt, meat, sauteed chicken livers and fresh-baked breads.

The streets teem with automobiles, streetcars and horse-drawn wagons. On the street corners, young boys cry - extra, extra, read all about it.

Now and then, McFadden, usually quite straightforward in her language, embraces cliches, and in the final chapters, she allows her plot to escape her loving hold on it. But despite all that, extra, extra, you want to read all about Easter.

NORRIS: The novel is "Glorious" by Bernice McFadden. Our review is from Alan Cheuse, who teaches writing at George Mason University.

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