October Suite by Maxine Clair
A Novel

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"The air cools to crisp, carries sound farther. Last pears ripen and fall, ferment on the ground; the aroma of their wine mixes with the pungency of leaf smoke from nowhere and everywhere. At nightfall, the wing-song shrill of crickets announces that this season has a natural pathos to it, the brief and flaming brilliance of everything at the climax of life moving toward death.
“October Brown had named herself for all of that."

So begins this beautifully written coming-of-age story about a young woman who struggles to overcome her family’s frightening legacy and keep her own child from similar emotional harm.

It is 1950 and October Brown is a twenty-three-year-old first-year teacher thanking her lucky stars that she found a room in the best boardinghouse for Negro women teachers in Wyandotte County, Kansas. October falls in love with an unhappily married handyman, James Wilson, but when she becomes pregnant, James deserts her. Stunned, and believing that James will eventually come back to her, October decides to have the baby. But he doesn’t come back. As her reputation suffers, and with her job in jeopardy, she spends her days in self-deception and denial. Her best friend, Cora, contacts October’s family: her older sister, Vergie, and her aunts Frances and Maude, who raised the sisters after their mother was killed by their father.

October goes back to her family in Ohio and gives birth to her son. Numb, she gives the child–David–to Vergie and her husband to raise as their own, then returns to Kansas City to rebuild her life. But something is missing–and, apparently too late, October realizes what she has done.

What follows is the heartrending account of October’s efforts to reclaim her dignity, her profession, and her son, efforts that lead her into a bitter struggle with her sister and a confrontation with her parents’ violent past. The Midwest, the flourishing of modern jazz, and the culture of segregation form a compelling historical backdrop for this timeless and universal tale of one person’s battle to understand and master her own desires, and to embrace the responsibilities and promise of mature adulthood. October Suite plays a beautiful, haunting melody, turning everyday life into exceptional art.

About Maxine Clair

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Teaches writing at George Washington University. She is the author of Rattlebone, which won the Chicago Tribune's 1994 Heartland Prize for fiction, the American Library Association's Black Caucus Award, and the Friends of American Literature Award. She lives in Maryland.
Published September 25, 2001 by Random House. 336 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for October Suite

The New York Times

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The African-American heroine of Maxine Clair's novel lets an irresistible handyman wreck her life.

Nov 11 2001 | Read Full Review of October Suite: A Novel

Publishers Weekly

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Clair tells her story with a pitch-perfect feel for the time and the people—African-Americans just beginning to sense the rising tide of the civil rights revolution—and her character drawing is uncannily exact, from the anxious Vergie and the kindly but never cloying aunts to the delicately shade...

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Book Reporter

It is 1950 in Wyandotte County, Kansas, and October Brown is a happy lady.

Sep 25 2001 | Read Full Review of October Suite: A Novel

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