Book Review: This Bitter Earth
Book Reviewed by Thumper
There are times in which a sequel does not reach or surpass the freshness and vitality of its predecessor. Times in which the original should be allowed to stand alone, in it’s own place of honor, basking in the glory that it achieved for itself. Sequels not only have to reach success on its own terms, it has to face the ready-made obstacles of anticipation and expectation. The sequel will either carry these obstacles with ease or the obstacles will become the proverbial millstones about its neck. I am happy, most pleased, ecstatic even, to announce that This Bitter Earth: The Story of Sugar Lacey, the sequel to Bernice L. McFadden’s triumphant debut novel Sugar is indeed a brilliant remarkable sequel that not only carries the twin obstacles of anticipation and expectation generated from Sugar, but waves them in the air as banners.
I couldn’t wait to read This Bitter Earth, and I wasn’t disappointed. When I first received the book, I held it in my hands, smiled to myself (probably looking real goofy), and said (probably out loud), "Welcome back Sugar. Girl, where you been?" I then turned to the first page and proceeded to start the journey into what I knew would become one of the best books in 2002.
This Bitter Earth begins where Sugar ended, exactly where Sugar ended; with Pearl Taylor finally mourning the death of her beloved daughter Jude and Sugar Lacey walking out of Bigelow, Arkansas with a sense of self, knowledgeable of some elements of her past and the true identity of Jude’s, Sugar’s half-sister, murderer. Sugar’s new journey will unfurl the dust-covered sheets draping the shadows of her past and shine a light on her present.
I adored This Bitter Earth. Slipping back into Sugar’s life was easy and comforting. McFadden wisely chose to show Sugar’s future by fully developing her past. Sugar, Joe, and Pearl were finely, expertly developed in the first novel. McFadden added more curves, rough edges, depth, shading, and intimacies to the characters, as well as fleshing out Bertie Mae, Sugar’s mother, the Lacey Sisters, Mary and Mercy Bedford, and Lappy Clayton. After the first novel, I wouldn’t have believed the Sugar’s story could’ve have become more full, richer, alas it has.
McFadden’s ability to create a setting, an atmosphere, is remarkable. At one point in the novel, Sugar is on a bus traveling, the year 1965. It was as if I fell through the looking glass and landed on the Greyhound bus seat, sitting directly across from Sugar with only that narrow, sticky aisle between us. I was tense, mouth set, muscles tight. I was on edge. I was transported to a time - an era in which I take great pride in my parents and the old folks for living through, but one in which I thank the good Lord that I didn’t have to experience - without my awareness or consent. I wasn’t fully conscious of my new destination until I found myself sitting next to Sugar with the intermittent sounds of somebody’s watch ticking accompanied by the pulsating blood throbbing against my temples; wishing that baby, the only one brave enough to give voice to our collective discomfort, would shut the hell up; and smelling old greasy food, unwashed bodies, nervous sweat and fear. I discovered that I couldn’t leave that bus seat. It would have taken the National Guard to get that book out of my hands. McFadden provided me with the longest bus ride I ever took in my life!
This Bitter Earth is magnificent. This Bitter Earth accomplished the privilege of being classified as that rare breed of sequels, a successful, most satisfying one. It more than met any and all expectations. McFadden should now be recognized as a gifted author of exceptional talent.