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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Review of MISSING ISAAC by Valerie Fraser Luesse (New Release)

2 Stars
I can see this book being adapted into a Hallmark movie.  Unfortunately, it is not a book I enjoyed; it is much too saccharine. 

In Glory, Alabama, in 1964, Isaac Reynolds, a black field hand goes missing.  When Jack McLean, Isaac’s friend and employer, was killed two years earlier, Isaac took Pete, Jack’s son, under his wing and the two were almost inseparable.  Thirteen-year-old Pete sets out to try and find out what happened to Isaac; in the process he finds a new friend and learns about the world.

This is to be seen as a coming-of-age novel showing Pete’s maturation from the age of 11 to 17.  The problem is that Pete seems mature from the beginning.  If anything, he is too good to be true.  He never seems to do anything wrong; his only transgression is lying to his mother that he is going fishing with Isaac when he actually goes with him to a barbecue in the black section of town where he hears blues music for the first time!  He is unfailingly courteous, works hard, and takes responsibility for his actions.  He shows no sign of teenage rebelliousness; he does get into a fight at school but only because he is defending a girl’s honour.  And because he respects Dovey, his girlfriend, sex is never ever mentioned.

And it is not only Pete who is perfect.  His entire family borders on the saintly.  They show no prejudice; though Jack was white and wealthy, one of his best friends was a black man and the other was a poor man.  Pete’s maternal grandfather, Ned Ballard, is the town philanthropist who quietly gives money to any deserving person regardless of colour.  In his attitude and behaviour, he is very much the Atticus Finch character.  Dovey’s deceased mother is described as an angel and Dovey seems one too; she is always doing nice things for others.  She even has an angelic singing voice!  The one person who could be seen as a rebel is Pete’s Aunt Geneva who is known for speaking her mind; nevertheless, everyone is crazy about her, even those she cowers into subservience.  She is Harper Lee’s Miss Maudie.

The blacks and the poor are also portrayed as overwhelmingly good.  Of the poor white people living in the hollow (?!) only Joseph Pickett is shown in a negative light; he marries a woman who is described as a loudmouth with no sense and who wears tight shorts and halter tops.   The blacks are likewise shown only in a positive light.  Hattie, for instance, is so hardworking that she is respected by all the whites.  She brings to mind Calpurnia in To Kill a Mockingbird.

While Pete’s family has no flaws, there are villains who have no redeeming qualities.  A character is introduced early in the book whom any discerning reader will immediately identify as one of the evil characters who will keep reappearing throughout.  Then there are the stereotypes:  two obvious ones are the stupid, prejudiced sheriff and the uneducated country bumpkin who in her mannerisms and speech reminded me of Mayella Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird.

With all the religious overtones, this book would probably fit the category of Christian fiction.  Hymns are quoted liberally.  The McLeans are good church-going Christians, as are the blacks.  The poor whites do not feel welcome in Glory’s churches but worship in their own way.  In the end, the good are rewarded (usually by finding a soulmate and getting married) and the hypocrites receive their comeuppance. 

Anyone who loves a feel-good ending will love this ending.   Despite some temporary setbacks, evil is eventually vanquished.  Good conquers all.  Happiness awaits those who persevere through hardships. I wish life were so simple, but such endings are not very realistic.

Undoubtedly, I will be criticized as being too harsh in my comments.  I do not mean to be.  This type of book is just not for me; it does not reflect the real world.  People are more nuanced than the characters in this novel.  Furthermore, by resorting to stereotypes and clichés, the author does not increase the reader’s understanding of Alabamians or appreciation for Southern culture.  (Or has my reading been coloured by Roy Moore’s  Senate campaign in Alabama?)

Note:  I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via LibraryThing.