MEANT TO BE

Rita Coburn Whack, Author, Rita Coburn Whack, Author . Villard/Strivers Row $11.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-375-75809-6

Ostensibly a memoir of Patience Jan Campbell's progress from 1960s girlhood to womanhood, this heartfelt novel also recounts a spiritual journey. Since Jan's childhood in a largely black Chicago suburb, her mentor has been an aunt whom she calls Mama Ada. Now sick with breast cancer, Ada declares, "Our spirits are not confined to these bodies" and urges Jan to reach out in prayer to the spirits of the dead for advice and comfort. The child, mystified by her parents' apparent lack of love for each other and by her own recurring dreams, calls to her grandmother, Hannah, whose "earth-time ended a half century ago." Hannah has "double-love" for this grandchild, and her omniscient voice takes over the narration of Jan's life story through college, the beginnings of her career as a radio disc jockey, and her relationship with two lovers: Don, an older sculptor (and ex-convict), and Phillip, sales director at the station where she's employed. Two strong women affect Jan's maturation: Sarah, a longtime friend whose motherhood and divorce serve as a lesson, and Raye, Jan's boss and role model. In an afterword called "A Conversation with the Author," Whack explains that several characters are based on her own "essence," and describes the novel's semi-autobiographical genesis. Solipsistic as it may be, the book makes a sincere attempt to integrate Christianity, black history and fiction, and Whack's considerable narrative ability and the color and vigor of her prose add up to a highly readable tale. (Mar. 19)

Reviewed on: 01/07/2002
Release date: 03/01/2002
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