Cinder, By Albert French
Sunday 24 February 2008
Albert French's first novel, 1995's Billy, was a hugely affecting tale about segregation and injustice. Three novels later, he now returns to the fictional 1930s Mississippi town of Banes, where it was set. In Billy, a 10-year-old black boy had been wrongly convicted of murdering a white girl, and executed. This book opens with his coffin arriving back in town, and the wailing of his mother, 27-year-old Cinder.
It is less focused than Billy was on any one story, and instead spends time with the townsfolk and makes time for a lot of what French calls "porch talkin'". He writes in the third person but in the idiom of his characters, which is rhythmic, expressive, ultimately poetic, and brings William Faulkner to mind. It is a novel about people of all kinds and two colours rubbing along as best they can – which isn't always well – in a time and place where the day swelters, tensions simmer, things don't look as if they're ever going to get any better, and "even time acted like it didn't want to move at all while that sun was up".
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