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Michelle Newby is contributing editor at Lone Star Literary Life, reviewer for Foreword Reviews, freelance writer, member of the National Book Critics Circle, and blogger at www.TexasBookLover.com. Her reviews appear or are forthcoming in Pleiades Magazine, Rain Taxi, World Literature Today, South85 Journal, The Review Review, Concho River Review, Monkeybicycle, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Atticus Review, and The Collagist.
Attica Locke is the author of the widely acclaimed debut novel Black Water Rising (Harper, 2009), which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, nominated for an Edgar Award and an NAACP Image Award, and was shortlisted for the UK's Orange Prize, and The Cutting Season (Harper, 2013). As a screenwriter, Locke has produced scripts for Paramount, Warner Bros., Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, Jerry Bruckheimer Films, and HBO. She was a fellow at the Sundance Institute's Feature Filmmakers Lab and has served on the board of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. A native of Houston, Texas, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.
Author photo by Jenny Walters
New York: Harper
432 pages, $26.99
April 21, 2015
Pleasantville is a historical neighborhood in Houston, Texas, “a planned community…built specifically for Negro families of means and class” in the wake of World War II, and one of its favorite sons, Axel Hathorne, has just entered a runoff election for mayor of Houston. The same night, someone is watching Alicia Nowell, a teenage girl who had been handing out leaflets door-to-door for the election as she stands on a street corner waiting for her ride, “still wanting to believe a way out was possible, but already knowing, with a creeping certainty, that this this night had turned on her, that her disappearing had already begun.” How’s that for a hook?
Pleasantville is Attica Locke’s sequel to the many-award-nominated Black Water Rising is back -- with environmental plaintiff’s attorney Jay Porter, this time dealing with the death of his wife, single fatherhood, inertia, and a break-in at his law office that occurs the same night as the election, the same night the girl goes missing. When Hathorne’s campaign manager is arrested and charged with the murder of Alicia Nowell, Locke’s compelling setup for this complex, character-driven legal and political thriller is complete.
Pleasantville has a complicated plot with lots of moving parts. There is a large cast of disparate, intriguing characters, liberally peppered with predators of all stripes. The pacing never lags, goosed along by artfully placed plot twists. The story is a highly entertaining brew of political and personal ambition garnished with journalistic, legal, and corporate corruption. All of which Locke handles beautifully.
The cynicism of the political horse-trading is breathtaking and will confirm all of your conspiracy theories. A good number of the cast are politicians and their consultants, including the reincarnation of Lee Atwater, a city council member who can “hear the whir of a video camera from a block over” and a mayoral candidate who began wearing glasses when she entered the race because “talk of her pale green eyes and the height of her stiletto heels starting getting too much play in the press.”
Porter’s floundering without his wife is touchingly conveyed. “There are things she knew about her family, not secrets so much as hard-earned intimacies, that she inadvertently took with her, leaving the rest of them to fend for themselves in this new, foreign land, daily meeting at the kitchen table, or passing in the hallway, without their shared interpreter.”
There is humor here, as well, spiced with sassy one-liners. At one point Porter concedes that “the breadth of his investigation is an ex-con skulking around Hollis’s [a suspect] place in a rusty El Camino.” Hollis’s place is one of those giant, generic apartment complexes with pretentious names. “This one has the nerve to call itself Beechwood Estates.”
Full of family secrets and political secrets, Pleasantville gives new meaning to the truism that the political is personal. For lovers of intrigue and suspense, this is the total package.
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