cover image On the Rooftop

On the Rooftop

Margaret Wilkerson Sexton. Ecco, $28.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-313996-1

Sexton (The Revisioners) broadly reimagines The Fiddler on the Roof in an affecting family story set in a rapidly changing historically Black San Francisco neighborhood. It’s 1953, and people from all walks of life pack the Champagne Supper Club to see the latest jazz and R&B performers. On Fridays, they cheer the Salvations, hometown favorites made up of sisters Ruth, Esther, and Chloe Jones. Now in their early 20s, the sisters’ talents have been relentlessly forged during countless rooftop rehearsals run by their mother, Vivian, a widow whose hopes for her daughters all center on their musical superstardom. Just as Vivian’s dream seems within reach, though, her daughters yearn for independence, with Chloe eyeing a solo career and Esther wanting to join the civil rights movement. Meanwhile, white developers begin disrupting Vivian’s Black Fillmore neighbors— many of whom, like Vivian, fled racial violence in the deep South—with eminent domain proceedings. In alternating viewpoints, Sexton depicts the nuances of familial relationships, including the sisters’ combination of loyalty and jealousy, as well as the complex and changeable nature of regret. The historical milieu is less sharply drawn, with celebrity cameos too often standing in for concrete details of time and place. Nevertheless, Sexton brings undeniable power to her depiction of dreams fragmented and deferred. Agent: Michael Carlisle, InkWell Management. (Sept.)