There is a rhythm to the writing of Karen White. It has a pace, a beat, a cadence that is all its own. It creates a flow of words like a river surging forward from the first page to the last page. This is certainly the case with White's latest novel, A Long Time Gone. The reader gets swept up by the story right from the start and barely comes up for breath until all has been revealed. This makes this southern saga of life in Mississippi one of White's best, and that means it is very, very good.
Vivien Walker comes back home to her Mississippi delta roots because she has nowhere else to go. She left home at age eighteen because she felt betrayed by her footloose mother, Carol Lynne, and took off for California where she found love and then lost it. Now she is divorced, abandoned and a pill addict. Her family home calls to her the way Tara called out to Scarlett O'Hara and she figures she will find a welcome rest in the arms of her beloved grandmother Bootsie.
But the home she finds is not the same as the one she left. People have died, and others have changed. Her mother is back home but is cloudy of mind and memory. It happens that Vivien is now the one upon whom her family must depend, and this includes her twelve year old stepdaughter Chloe who arrives soon after Vivien does.
Vivien makes a grisly discovery after a storm uproots a tree in the backyard. A body is revealed and Vivien is determined to find out who it is and why they are there. This involves going back into her history for three generations. The reader is presented with the stories of Vivien's great-grandmother Adrienne, her grandmother Bootsie and her mother Carol Lynne. Each of these Walker women have a story to tell and each one's story has an impact on Vivien's past, present and future life.
Karen White uses her writing skills to present these stories in the words of Adrienne, Carol Lynne and Vivien. These three women speak with unique voices and create a world of their own as they tell of events that occurred during their lifetimes. It lets the reader have a glimpse into the past, and it is a rich portrait that is presented.
Some may quibble over the time jumps in the novel as each of the three women interweave their stories, but I found it an impressive way to relate the events as each woman's section adds to the one given before. This also allows White to reveal the dramatic outcome with clarity and predetermination.
Once you have started the journey contained in A Long Time Gone you will not be able to stop. The current of words will pull you along as you glide towards the ending. When you reach the shore of your real life you will have a feeling of being fully sated by Karen White's talent as a teller of tales.
A LONG TIME GONE is published by NAL. It contains 432 pages and sells for $25.95.
Jackie K Cooper