Book Review: Trading Dreams at Midnight: A Novel
Publication Date: Jun 30, 2009
List Price: $13.99
Format: Paperback, 320 pages
Imprint: Harper Perennial
Parent Company: News Corporation
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Book Reviewed by Idrissa Uqdah
Mothers and Daughters: A Family of Women
For more than twenty years, Neena has been searching for her absent, mentally ill mother, Freeda. Freeda's last appearance is the night of her sixteenth birthday when she climbed into the window of her daughters' bedroom where they live with her mother, Nan. Nan is a stern but loving grandmother to Tish and Neena. Over the years, she takes them in when Freeda's wandering mind takes her on a journey, abandoning her young daughters to fend for selves. Yet, whenever she returns, Neena is happy and can't get past her yearnings for her mother's love that she knew as a little girl. Tish longs for stability, often frightened, afraid and prefers the security of her grandmother's care.
Nan knows this and it causes a huge divide between the two of them. She never seems to be able to love Neena, the rebellious grandchild, the way that she loves Tish, the agreeable one. Neena feels she can never do right in her grandmother's eyes. She is Freeda's girl and Nan, who never forgave herself for not being able to save Freeda from her demons, sees all that she has lost in Freeda, in Neena.
In her recently released novel, Trading Dreams At Midnight, acclaimed author Diane McKinney-Whetstone brings us a hauntingly beautiful story of mothers and daughters, love and pain. The author threads issues of mental illness, alcoholism, broken marriages, prejudice, racism, and neighborhood gentrification throughout her novel. Although at times soft, it is still a hard-hitting, bittersweet novel about a family of black women who stand tough as times get tougher.
Nan also has demons to live with. As a young, lonely, single woman, Nan is so taken by the handsome, sweet talking Albert that she resorts to less than honorable ways to trap him. A working alcoholic in bad health, Alfred is more than a handful but Nan loves him enough to stand by him. After Freeda's birth, Alfred is in and out of sobriety over the years yet they manage to stay together as a family. Freeda is a Daddy's girl and the apple of his eye. Nan thought that all of her dreams had come true. As Freeda gets older, however, Nan sees that her sweet child is less than perfect. For years, Nan refuses to face the realities of her daughter's dark side. Then as a rude awakening, Nan believes that her sins are re-visited in her child. When the marriage falls apart, so does Freeda. It becomes clear that she has mental problems but Nan's help comes too late. When Freeda gives birth to Neena and Tish, Nan sets out to save the girls, hoping that her grandchildren will elude the fate that befell their mother.
Unlike Tish, Neena cannot stop longing for her mother. She drops out of college and leaves Philadelphia for Cleveland, the last place that Freeda had been spotted. Neena finds herself forced to run scams against her married lovers in order to support her search and to live the good life. Finding herself in danger after one of her scams goes bad, she returns to Philadelphia with only the clothes on her back and plans to stay with Tish until she can get on her feet again.
Tish is now happily married and doing very well as a local television anchorwoman. There is a problem, however; Tish is in the hospital threatening a miscarriage of her fetus.
Neena is broke, scared and desperate. She cannot depend on Tish or face her grandmother who she ran away from long ago. She is frightened that she really cannot come back home.
How McKinney-Whetstone brings Tish, Nan and Neena together is rich in emotion and beauty and not to be missed.
McKinney-Whetstone's lyrical prose is her trademark. Her secondary characters are just as carefully drawn as her main characters and help carry the story. Her description of Philadelphia in the late 1990s is most familiar to this reviewer who grew up in the City of Brotherly Love.
The author writes novels that never need a sequel. They are so complete you know that all is well with the characters that you have come to love. This latest offering is no different. Her loyal readers will not be disappointed. Dianne McKinney-Whetstone pens yet another African American literary classic.