BOOK REVIEW / Darkness between the sheets
Harlem Renaissance author Dorothy West published her first novel in 1948. This is her second. The Wedding by Dorothy West Abacus, pounds 9.99
Saturday 07 October 1995
Dorothy West's The Wedding is set in 1953, in the Oval area of Martha's Vineyard. This is home to smart coloured society, and no family is smarter than the Coleses. It's their daughter, the now grown-up Shelby, who is about to marry.
Colour here is a social barometer, but the nuances of race are so subtle that the uninitiated "sometimes wasted an entire summer licking the wrong boot". Characters shade from honey through butternut to "black". Light skin tones are proof of good breeding, but secretly everyone craves something darker between the sheets.
The Wedding recalls Eudora Welty's Delta Wedding. The writers are absolute contemporaries - West was born one year before Welty in 1908. But in the preparations for Dabney's nuptials, Welty shows us the white South defeated but still beautiful while West lets us see what happened to its slaves once they were free. Like Dabney, Shelby is marrying an outsider - in her case a white jazz musician - causing minor shock waves to ripple through the black bourgeoisie. The embittered Gram has high hopes of this union, dreaming of a pure bloodline and burial in a whites-only cemetery. However, Shelby's mother feels her daughter is marrying beneath her; Shelby's adulterous father believes that because of him his daughter cannot trust any coloured man; sister Liz thinks the virginal Shelby fears the sex a dark man symbolises.
Flashbacks trace the Coles family history from its genesis in euphoria and despair. The ex-slaves work to better themselves; the impoverished whites struggle to survive. Gram's daughter knows that "marriage to a man who could feed her was her only escape ... The men with money were white trash, who had robbed the aristocrats of their sovereignty, and she would rather marry a coloured man who knew he was dirt beneath her feet".
Despite its big themes, this quiet novel never quite reaches epic proportions - though it has many of the characteristics of epic. It ends in tragedy and reconciliation, and also in something like wish-fulfilment: "Colour was a false distinction; love was not." There are many enjoyable insights into a world where washerwomen and cooks spawn professors and doctors. But West holds the reader at a distance, offering an invitation to a wedding we hear about rather than see.
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Jack the Ripper: Scientist who claims to have identified notorious killer has 'made serious DNA error'
- 2 Banksy arrest hoax: Internet duped by fake online report claiming artist's identity has been revealed
- 3 Former East 17 frontman Brian Harvey turns up at Downing Street and 'demands to speak to Prime Minister'
- 4 Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
- 5 Paralysed man Darek Fidyka walks again after treatment by British doctors on brink of 'cure'
James Blunt finally admits the truth: 'You're Beautiful' is annoying
Downton Abbey review series 5, episode 5: Period drama falls disappointingly flat
Star Wars Episode 7 has almost finished filming
Fury, film review: Brad Pitt is intriguing as unsympathetic war hero
Batman v Superman: Side-kick Robin to be 'woman played by Jena Malone'
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Lord Freud: Tory welfare minister apologises after saying disabled people are 'not worth’ the minimum wage
Lord Freud hangs on as MPs of all parties 'call for his head' over disability comments