Review of Stand the Storm

September 17, 2008 | No Comments

Fans of Breena Clark’s first novel, River, Cross my Heart, have had to wait a long time, 10 years, for an encore. Below is an excerpt from my (mixed) review of her new release, Stand the Storm, which aired this morning on Maryland Public Radio, and can be heard in full here.

“The merit of a book shouldn’t rest on its subject matter alone, but on how well it has been written, and Clark must be commended for handling the atrocities of slavery without maudlin sentiment. But I fear many of my fellow-reviewers may label Stand the Storm as uplifting and heart-warming, seduced by its saga of plucky survival. Those adjectives are not entirely misplaced, but Clarke missed an opportunity to do something less predictable, less safe.
The plot’s tentative nature makes me suspect that this author is unsure of her considerable gifts. Although Clarke places numerous obstacles along the family’s road to liberty, just as swiftly she sweeps them aside. They intend to buy their freedom. And tis bought. When they are forced through a swindle to buy it a second time. Again, tis bought. When a runaway is lost. Lo, she is found. So on, and so forth. When, near the novel’s end, irrefutable tragedy does strike, (and it strikes from an unexpected quarter and carries a bitter sting of truth), this reader couldn’t help but feel that all these previous near “misses” were not organic to the work, but a form of authorial manipulation, set up simply to illuminate a final, devastating, “bulls-eye.””