Veteran romance writer Hill's first book for a major house (after If I Could, etc.) is a rambling, uneven saga of three generations of African-American women burdened by secrets and lies. One-dimensional characters, a leaden writing style and shopworn plot devices trivialize the tale. Opening in the late 1920s and set in rural Mississippi in "the colored section of Rudell," the story features pretty 17-year-old Cora Harvey, a preacher's daughter and talented member of the church choir. When Cora heads for Chicago with singing aspirations she leaves behind her suitor, David Mackey, the only African-American doctor in town. A devastating encounter with a white employer spoils Cora's dream. She returns to Mississippi and marries David, without revealing the appalling truth about her flight from Chicago. Predictably, the couple's happiness is all too brief: the birth of Emma, a daughter with unquestionably white features, leaves David feeling betrayed and destroys the marriage. Hill sacrifices what might have been a fascinating exploration of Cora's struggles to bring up a mixed-race daughter in a tightly knit black community in favor of fast-forwarding 18 years. That's when a willful Emma plots her escape to New York City, where she passes for white and soon meets her wealthy young husband-to-be. Years race by again and Emma's estranged daughter, Parris, is seeking romance, a musical career in New York and the truth about her heritage. Careful editing would have improved much of the flabby prose ("The September sun hung like a blazing orange umbrella"), but it's the thinly drawn characters that sap the novel's vitality, and only Hill's fans will have stamina for the long haul. (Aug.)
Forecast: This title should attract plenty of attention, since Hill has built a considerable grassroots following and three of her novels have been adapted for television.