Caren Gray manages the Belle Vie Plantation, the same plantation where her ancestors worked as slaves and her mother ran the kitchen. Caren grew up on Belle Vie and swore she would escape its hold on her family, but after dropping out of law school and having a baby, she returned to the only home she knew. And life seemed to be going along just fine, until the body was discovered.
The discovery of a migrant farm worker murdered and buried in a shallow grave seems to be the domino that starts the progressive fall of Caren's stable life. Caren is certain her daughter knows more about the murder than she's admitting; the owners of Belle Vie may be selling the plantation, whereby leaving Caren unemployed and homeless; her daughter's father shows up bringing back all the feelings and confusion she thought she'd left behind; and the local sheriff seems to have it in for Caren. Life is never going to be the same for Caren, but will she still have a life left before the murder is solved?
THE CUTTING SEASON is Attica Locke's second novel and the debut novel of the Dennis Lehane imprint with HarperCollins.
From page one Locke builds a haunting atmosphere for the novel. The ghosts that inhabit the Belle Vie plantation don't show up in visions or as unbelievable apparitions. Rather they haunt the souls of the present generation, and they're indiscriminate when it comes to skin color or ancestry.
THE CUTTING SEASON is neither a story of retribution nor a story of how a segment of the population were wronged during our nation's history. It IS a story of discovery, of realization, of individuals. Sometimes it takes a tragedy to learn we are defining ourselves by the wrong standards.
Locke's characters are richly developed and yet every single one maintains an air of mystery about them, helping to drive the suspense of the novel. Readers will find empathizing with the characters to be an easy task. They will also find it easy to wonder, "why would you do that?" Don't we also wonder that of ourselves?
The crime is the central event of THE CUTTING SEASON, but the themes that intertwine with that crime flavor the overall novel. An especially poignant theme being the mother-daughter relationship. Caren's relationship with her own mother comes out via Caren's memories while the relationship with her daughter plays out in real time. The contradictions in these relationships remind us how intricate and fragile and beautiful they are:
"She couldn't put her in a corner or physically wrest the truth out of her. At this stage, the two of them, mother and daughter, were left with the crudeness of language, the imprecision of words."
Many times the volume of the actions drown out the sound of our words; sometimes having our mother brush our hair or pick our clothes registers hundreds of decibels above "I love you."
Through her vivid setting and relaxed tone, Locke allows the stereotypical slow Southern nature to embrace the Belle Vie Plantation. And through her mysterious characters and multi-layered plot, she ramps up readers' anticipation. THE CUTTING SEASON may well be the fastest, laid back novel of 2012.
And the writing is simply exquisite. Whether it's beauty, horror or the mundane she's describing, Locke finds the symbols, metaphors and words that allow her readers to see, hear, taste, smell and feel the experience:
"It's the rain, too, she said, that likely brought the bone up from out of the ground, pushing it out like a depraved and dirty birth, death clawing its way back toward the light above."
The plot has an ideally readable complexity that demands the reader bring his/her own experiences, beliefs and biases into the reading process. And because of that unique element, every reader will undergo a singular experience and walk away altered in a different way. THE CUTTING SEASON will make a perfect bookclub choice to see this effect.
The characters of Locke's THE CUTTING SEASON are haunted by their Belle Vie ancestors; readers will find themselves equally haunted by her gorgeous sophomore novel.
THE CUTTING SEASON is available from Harper in hardcover (ISBN: 9780061802058) and is available as an unabridged audio, narrated by Quincy Tyler Bernstine, from Harper Audio (ISBN: 9780062205179)