I chose two books when I visited Barnes and Noble last month. I was pulled towards them as they seemed to say, “Try me.” I left with Edwidge Danticat’s Claire of the Sea Light, and Perfect Peace by Daniel Black. I had read Danticat’s other books, Breath, Eyes, Memory and The Dew Breaker. I saved her book for last because I thought it would be serious in nature.
Starting with Perfect Peace, I found that the element of characterization was most pronounced. The mother, Emma Jean, was an unloved child and a victim of verbal and physical abuse at the hands of her mother. She desperately wanted a little girl to adorn and shower with the love she had never received. She took her seventh son and decided to dress him as a little girl.
She was able to fool the entire family and they thought that Perfect was a girl until she turned eight years old. When Perfect started asking questions about becoming a woman, Emma Jean took her to the woods, told her that she was a boy, cut off her hair and gave her some overalls. She showed her what a woman really looked like and told the family what she had done.
Gus, the father, was outraged, beat Emma Jean and changed Perfect’s name to Paul. This book was strongest in characterization because every member of the Peace household was affected by this horror. Gus and the six boys, Authorly, Woody, Mister, Bartimaeus, Solomon and James Earl were forever changed by this family anomaly. They then had to try to teach Paul how to be a boy.
Of course, Paul and his reactions were central to the story and Emma Jean later faced the consequences of her actions. I felt as if I was sitting in the Peace home watching the events unfold. It was set in rural Arkansas and the setting was important because I am not sure if this shrouded secret would have remained in a metropolis or large city.
The other book, Claire of the Sea Light, by Edwidge Danticat, had a surprisingly lighter tone than her other two works that I had read; however, this book was quite entertaining. The strongest elements here were both plot and setting. This story took place on the small island of Haiti and the author showed how the people’s lives were interwoven and connected by an invisible thread.
I thought of two interlocking hands because as the islanders looked for Claire, so many of their own stories were told through subplots. Claire’s widower father, Nozias, was about to give her away to an affluent woman who had lost her only child. Claire disappeared after her seventh birthday party and as the reader waits to see if she returns safely, there were tales of a tragic drowning, a couple of murders, a cover-up, clandestine affairs and an attempted suicide.
The plot was the strongest element but the setting on an island helped to show the relationships amongst the people. One life truly touched another in this limited geographical space. The reader was held in suspense while waiting to see if Claire returns in one piece to face whatever life holds for her.
Lynn October 13, 2014