A hypnotic, lyrical debut novel about a young black girl in the deep south who comes to confront the realities of sex, race, disease, and death, by a writer of extraordinary emotional depth.
A profoundly raw and gripping read,” (The Baltimore Sun) Olympia Vernon’s fearless and wildly original debut novel explodes on the first page and sustains a tightrope intensity until the last. Set in Pyke County, Mississippi, Eden is a raw, heartbreaking, and enlightening novel that marks the emergence of a stunning and original talent. Narrated by fourteen-year-old Maddy Dangerfield, Eden opens in the moments after Maddy has impulsively drawn a naked woman on the pages of Genesis in bright red lipstick during Sunday service. The community is scandalized, and her devout, long-suffering mother’s response to her transgression is to force her to spend weekends nursing her dying Aunt Pip, an outcast who lives on the edge of town.
From then on, Maddy must negotiate her two worlds: at the house where she lives with her hard-working, Bible-reading mother, Faye, and her father, Chevroleta one-armed drunk, gambler and womanizershe is both a reluctant participant in and astute observer of the strange and confounding dynamics of her sometimes violent, sometimes tender family. (Years before, Maddy’s grandmotherher mother’s motherchopped of Chevrolet’s arm and fed it to the pigs after he and Pip were found together in the back room as Faye entertained friends from the churchand ever since, he has been am emasculated, desperate mandrinking and gambling his wife’s money away, leaving her to clean up his mess time and again.) And then out on Commitment Road, she is caretaker to her Aunt Pip, whose only friend is her eccentric neighbor, Fat. Maddy’s time with Pip and Fat opens her eyes to the exhilaration of speaking your own mind, living your life on your own terms and without apology, and also to the cost extracted by both. She learns that there are strengths that belong to women alone, and also that there is a kind of ravaging vulnerability that is terrifying and inescapable, and uniquely female.
The world Maddy inherits is one of injustice and hypocrisy, one that requires black people work for the whites for little to no pay; that sent her Uncle Sugar to jail for raping a white womanno questions askedwhen Maddy was just a baby; that preaches Christian love and forgiveness even as its actions reflect the very opposite. But Maddy soon learns that there is something that can work to oppose those truths, and that is knowledge; having the will and the ability to look beneath the surface, to question what others take as a given. By the end of the novel, newly acquainted with mortality and her own fierce strength, Maddy comes to bear both the burden and the blessing of that knowledge.
In lush, vivid brushstrokes, Olympia Vernon conjures a world that is both intoxicating and cruel, and illuminates the bittersweet transformation of the young girl who must bear the burden and blessing of its secrets too soon. Eden is a haunting, memorable novel propelled by the poetry and power of a voice that is complex, lyrical, and utterly true.
About Olympia Vernon
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Published December 1, 2007
by Grove Press.
Literature & Fiction.