The Upper Room
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Format: Paperback, 32pp.
Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
Pub. Date: July 2002
Reviewed by Thumper
Mary Monroe initially caught my attention and admiration with her second novel God Don't Like Ugly. I loved God Don't Like Ugly, as I previously stated in my review and I am even more enthusiastic about Monroe's latest novel, The Upper Room. I laughed till my sides hurt and my throat got clogged with previously cried but unreleased tears. I was chilled to the bone and awestruck by the events and characters. The Upper Room is a remarkable novel I will not soon forget.
"After I read God Don't Like Ugly, I immediately placed Monroe on my "authors to watch" list."
Mama Ruby has the gift of healing hands, a unique sense of right and wrong, and she's crazy as a loon. One night when Othella, Mama Ruby's best friend, gives birth to a dead baby girl, Mama Ruby lays hands and breathes life into the stillborn child. She names the child Maureen and takes her that night to a rural area along the Florida Everglades. This is where Maureen matures into adulthood. When Maureen leaves Mama Ruby's house claiming her independence, the sanctified, devotedly religious, borderline insane Mama Ruby raise all kinds of unholy Hell. Old folks say nothing is stronger than a mother's love for her child, but what they don't say is what happens when the mama is psychotic.
After I read God Don't
Like Ugly, I immediately placed Monroe on my "authors to watch" list. After
reading The Upper Room, Monroe is now firmly ensconced in the exclusive company
of authors that I consider my favorites. She is a gifted writer with a hypnotic,
lyrical style that grabs me by the throat. Monroe knows the importance of pacing
and rhythm and she uses deceptively sparse settings and short chapters to leave
space for my imagination to fit in between her words and make the story my own.
The novel unfolded in the manner of an adult bedtime story and included the fairy tale components of a wicked stepmother, lost children, and the good witch. I was captivated in childlike marvel, too engrossed in the tale to wonder if it would bring peaceful, colorful dreams, or nightmares of silent screams and hair-whitening terror.
The Upper Room is brimming with out-of-the-ordinary characters that I would swear I have met before. They are the type of people that would make W. E. B. DuBois dive under his bed with shame -- the remnant 9/10 of his Talented Tenth theory that he never talked about. Mama Ruby, Maureen, Othella, et al, are folk that operate well beneath the black upward mobility radar. I am always glad to spend time with them! In an ocean of reading choices where many African American authors are only interested in writing books about the black upper middle class, and are more concerned with their characters' wardrobes than their personalities, Monroe's characters are refreshing. I'd rather read about the kind of people who settle close to the ground where my roots are, rather than folks who live on unfulfilled dreams and delusions.
The Upper Room is Mama Ruby's book, and lemme tell you, Mama Ruby ain't nobody I want to trifle with. On my worst day, on an empty stomach, with my sugar running low and having a full-blown attitude, I don't want none of Mama Ruby. I was mesmerized by, tickled with and scared of Mama Ruby. Mama Ruby is crazy as bed bug on a dirty mattress and don't know it, strong, highly knowledgeable about human nature, and secure in her own skin. She can turn a phrase and lie with such conviction; I doubted my own sanity, because her twisted logic, at times, seemed reasonable. She is a memorable, thrilling and dangerous character. I adored her!
The Upper Room is fantastic! Would you believe that I got my copy of The Upper Room at my first Book Expo America convention in Chicago, 2001? I had it lying around my house for over a year unread. If I were able to kick myself, I would, in a heartbeat, for not picking the book up sooner. An unbeatable, remarkable novel that I am pleased to praise, The Upper Room is an incredible reading experience.
Reviews of other books by Mary Monroe