he small town of Halley's Landing is unexceptional in most respects. Its main attractions are the site of a supposed touchdown by its namesake comet, an old canal, and a celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation every eighth of August. But the eclectic inhabitants of Halley's Landing are the town's real hallmarks.
In An Eighth of August by Dawn Turner Trice, family matriarch Cora Riley Hoskins welcomes family and friends to her large three-story house every year for the homecoming celebration. It's a party marked by good food, thanksgiving, and town events. Some years are more memorable than others, and a select few are not to be forgotten, no matter how painful.
Set in 1986, the story weaves together a chorus of narrative voices, including the head-strong Flossie Jo Penticott and her spindly sister-in-law Thelma Gray. There's also wayward Pepper, loyal Uncle Herbert, confused Sweet Alma, and saucy May Ruth. Together they tell the story of a family coming to terms with a tragic event and the healing power of forgiveness.
Trice, author of Only Twice I've Wished for Heaven, probes deeply into the question of what makes a family. She blurs the color line with the inclusion of a white British woman running away from her own family traumas into an African-American family.
The novel flashes back to 1973, when Sweet Alma was a pregnant teenager, disappointing her mother's dreams. It retells the choices made by Flossie Jo to keep her daughter respectable and recalls the family tragedy of 1985. But the novel is also the story of May Ruth and her journey from a married woman with a child to a drinking bird-watcher saved by Cora.
Because the story does not focus on one main character, the novel continuously evolves as the central tale unfolds. Each contributor gives it an added depth and sense of community. Trice's writing style and chapter headings keep readers from getting lost in the various narratives.
An enjoyable novel with a cacophony of voices, An Eighth of August is a sometimes humorous, insightful tale of family, community, and homecoming. Already compared to Gloria Naylor, author of The Women of Brewster Place, Trice has cemented her reputation as an able chronicler of the African-American experience.
Amber Stephens is a freelance writer in Columbus, Ohio.