Reading historical fiction is dangerous. If bad things are happening (and they are very likely to happen, as the history of human beings is full of shameful episodes, or whole chapters), I cannot calm myself down by thinking, "it's just a book", like with fantasy or detective novels. Even if this actual story didn't happen, it could have, and similar stories were happening.
It’s terrifying what human beings are capable of.
The novel by Julie Roberts Towe not only calls to mind the dark demon of racism, which has not been entirely exorcised out of human heads to date, but it’s also a great piece of psychological fiction, showing dealing with loss, abuse, self-aggression, hatred and cruelty. All the terrible things in the life of Rhoda and the family she meets in Grand Saline wouldn't have happened if not for the disastrous attitudes in the heads of other people. All this pain was brought to their lives not by natural disasters or material world entropy, but by corrupted minds. It could have been avoided if humans were just humane to each other.
Like ebony and ivory, the terrible knot of the threads of characters’ lives shows strong contrasts. One person loses a child, while a child loses mother. One woman wanted to live, but was killed, another wants to kill herself. One man takes his life because of a child, while another struggles to survive for a child. The reader’s emotions, empathy and also ethical judgements are challenged all the time. Is it really possible for so many bad things to happen to a single person? (Oh yes, it is). Can humans really be so wicked and cruel? So stupid? (Oh yes, they can). The main character, whose chaos and devastation was hard to bear in the first half of the book, later on - well, I won’t spoil it, but I shocked myself with the feelings I felt when I read. It was like OMG - all the time.
Well-written, gripping, engaging, shocking, full of pain - a page turner. And the ethical and social problems featured are still a real issue today. The 60's were not such a long time ago, within the lifetime of most of our parents.