The opening of Bluebird, Bluebird grabbed my attention and my imagination immediately.
We first meet Geneva Sweet as she snakes an orange extension cord through a cemetery, past the grave markers that read "Mayva Greenwood, Beloved Wife and Mother, May She Rest With Her Heavenly Father" and "Leland, Father and Brother in Christ" until she reaches her goal, the final resting place of her husband, Joe "Petey Pie" Sweet, whose monument reads "Husband and Father, and Forgive Him Lord, A Devil on the Guitar."
The extension cord and the transistor radio allow Geneva to play Joe some Muddy Waters.
Geneva Sweet, almost seventy, is in many ways the heart of the novel. She is not the protagonist; she is the core, the center that anchors a tiny community with deep roots in the past.
Darren Mathews is a black Texas Ranger, and he is justifiably proud of the fact. He loves Texas and the Rangers, but his pride in both doesn't mean Darren isn't aware of flaws in the justice system.
Raised by his twin uncles (Clay, a celebrated law professor and William, the first black Texas Ranger), Darren's background is privileged. At the other end of the spectrum, Darren's mother is a poor alcoholic who is always cadging money. Darren's connections run the gamut of the socioeconomic spectrum.
After a degree from Princeton and two years of law school, Darren's career path derails after the horrific event in 1998 in Jasper, Texas. He drops out of law school, much to the disappointment of his wife and his Uncle Clay, and joins the Texas Rangers.
While it is easy to love Darren, despite his ideals, he is as imperfect as any other human being, and in the midst of some serious problems at work and at home, he finds himself in the tiny town of Lark, Texas at the request of a friend in the FBI. A black man has been found dead and the death receives only a cursory examination. Then a few days later, a white woman is murdered.
When he walks into Geneva Sweet's tiny establishment, Darren has no idea of how his perspective will undergo change.
Bluebird resonates on so many levels--from the piney woods setting in East Texas, to the strengths and frailties of the human condition, to the historic and current effects of race relations.
The novel is a love song to Texas in many ways, despite the acknowledged racism and the impact prejudice and discrimination have on the lives of both blacks and whites. That, I think, is what makes this different from many novels that attempt to cover racism. Attica Locke's roots (like those of her protagonist) are deep in the red soil of East Texas and despite all of the injustices, historic and contemporary, she loves the state and her own heritage.
The novel presents a thoughtful and humane look at the characters while still making the situations perfectly clear, never excusing and never despairing. Locke examines the complexity of the events of a small town and leaves her protagonist uncomfortably aware of a script that diverges from his expectations.
The prose and the images from this novel will remain with me. Highly recommended.
From a Literary Hub interview with the author:
(The piney woods and the names of some of the small towns along the Texas/Louisiana border are as familiar to me as the music that runs like a melody through the novel.)
Mystery/Crime. Sept. 12, 2017. Print length: 320 pages.