RED ON A ROSE
Veiled advice for newlyweds and a thoughtful exploration of racism distinguish this novel set in Baltimore's contemporary African-American community during the muggy summertime. The heat triggers flaring tempers—at least in bride-of-two-years Lila Calloway when her tradition-bound stepmother Eulelie chides Lila for asking her cardiac surgeon husband Jack to mix the salad. The young couple, still much in love, are comfortable with sharing not only deep emotions but daily chores despite Lila's upbringing as the pampered daughter of influential Judge Giles; Jack grew up disadvantaged, but has become highly successful in his profession. Lila has a satisfying career as well in an online reading program for children and looks forward to motherhood; her standards for herself and others are high and uncompromising. When a trivial incident becomes a life and death matter, Lila must face the fact that moral issues are seldom simple and that her husband, the soul of rectitude, could, to his silent regret, make the wrong choice. Jones spares no one in her indictment of racism. Vicious taunting by rednecks, social prejudice among blacks according to their skin color and baiting by some blacks of their more successful brethren are integrated into the narrative. Meanwhile, lengthy passages of introspection and frequent flights of violent imagination mar rather than enhance Lila's characterization. She seems merely rude in "truth-telling" to her houseguests, stepmother and father-in-law; moreover, self-righteousness makes her less than sympathetic. Mercifully, Jones (Passing) restrains from sensationalizing a serious story about the effects of racism, and the credible, upbeat ending doesn't vitiate the strength of its message. (Nov.)
Forecast:While this book will be targeted to the African-American market, strong prose and an honest point of view should recommend it to a wider audience.