Take One Candle, Light a Room by Susan Straight
Publication Date: October 2010
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday
Format: Hardcover, 336 pp
(Received for review from Pantheon)
Synopsis (Courtesy of Barnes & Noble):
From the author of A Million Nightingales ("a writer of exceptional gifts and grace" - Joyce Carol Oates) comes a luminous new novel about the forces that tear families apart and the ties that bind them together.
Fantine Antoine is a travel writer, a profession that keeps her happily away from her Southern California home. When she returns to make the fifth anniversary of the murder of her closest childhood friend , Glorette, she finds herself pulled into the tumultuous life of Glorette's twenty-two-year old son - and Fantine's godson - Victor. After getting involved in a shooting, Victor had fled to New Orleans. Together with her father, Fantine follows Victor, determined to help him avoid the criminal future that he suddenly seems destined for.
Fantine's own fate will be altered on this journey as well: her father will reveal the most wrenching secrets of his past, and she will be compelled to question the most essential choices she's made in her life. As they cross from California to the heart of Louisiana, all three characters will come face-to-face with the issues of race that beset them: Fantine, who's light skin has allowed her a kind of invisibility; her father, who grew up in the Jim Crow South and tried to guard his family against that world; and Victor, who's fall into violence mirrors the path of so many other young black men. For Fantine, finding Victor could offer them both a way to face the past and decide between different futures.
Powerful and moving, Take One Candle, Light a Room illuminates the intricacies of human connection and the ways in which we find a place for ourselves within our families and the world.
Susan Straight takes on a very tough issue in her new book Take One Candle, Light a Room. A major theme in this book revolves around the issue of race and how it affects roles within a family and in the world at large. Straight's ability to show that a person can seek a new and better life for themselves while still remembering and honoring the past is what makes this novel so powerful.
Fantine Antoine has carved out a life for herself that has left little time for her family. In 1958 Fantine's mother, along with four other black girls were sent to California from rural Louisiana after a plantation owner raped three of them. Fantine's light skin has given her a kind of anonymity, it keeps her professional contacts guessing. But, Fantine's past hasn't always been filled with trotting the globe as a travel writer. Her best friend Glorette was murdered five years ago Now it's up to Fantine to try to help Glorette's son Victor, her own godson to change his life after he flees back to Louisiana after being involved in a shooting.
Fantine's journey to find and help Victor is as emotional as it is physical. Traveling with her father, she is shocked as he begins to tell her about his past and white brutality he was forced to live through. How he fights to protect his family from that kind of violence. She begins to realize that she can't outrun the past or try to forget where shes come from. She must teach Victor that he can have a different future and still understand where he came from.
Susan Straight tackles a very tumultuous subject in this novel. Race is a subject that tends to get under peoples skin. It makes them feel uncomfortable to believe that issues like those depicted in Straight's book still occur in our "enlightened" society. Straight tells a story that is gripping and very moving about a young woman's journey to learn about herself. How can she reconcile who she has become: a woman who hides behind her light mocha skin, with the woman she wants to be who isn't afraid to show her heritage?
Fantine is a great character. She is very passionate and she wants to show Victor that he can become more than he ever dreamed. He graduated from a community college with honors and he can go on to greater things. She wants to help her best friends son, not only to honor her memory but because she sees the potential inside him. I liked the way she felt it was more than just a duty to go after him and try to find him and help him.
I liked this novel a lot and felt that Straight faced the issues head on and didn't sugar coat things. I thought she showed a lot of gumption and had a very clear understanding of what it takes to be able to write about tough subjects. She is definitely a writer that I plan to read more from.
This is a novel that really packs a punch, so be prepared to feel a little uncomfortable, to reach for a couple tissues and maybe to realize that things aren't exactly like you thought they were. You'll meet great characters, smile with them, cry with them and as Hurricane Katrina roars in, you'll probably pray for their survival. One things for sure this novel will make you FEEL!
Take One Candle, Light a Room is available now from your favorite bookseller.
I'm giving this one 4 out of 5 apples from my book bag!
Susan Straight is the author of six novels, including A Million Nightingales and the National Book Award finalist, Highwire Moon. She has written for The New York Times Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Harper's Magazine, and NPR's All Things Considered. Her short stories have won an Edgar Award and an O. Henry Award. She teaches at the University of California, Riverside.