cover image Life and Other Love Songs

Life and Other Love Songs

Anissa Gray. Berkley, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-1-984802-46-0

Gray (The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls) follows three generations of a Black Detroit family in her poignant latest. Deborah and Oz Armstead marry young, not long after meeting as teens at a 1962 rent party. Gray traces their effort to rise above menial jobs in a hospital kitchen and on a graveyard shift at GM, respectively. As Deborah chases her dream of a Motown singing career and they have a daughter, Trinity, Deborah comes to suspect Oz hasn’t shared the whole story of his past. Then, on Oz’s 37th birthday, he disappears, leaving behind Deborah; teenage Trinity; Oz’s younger brother, Tommy; and the brothers’ mother, Pearl. Unsure if he’s dead or alive (“absence was not the same as death,” Trinity narrates), the family tries to move on. As Deborah struggles with alcohol and career disappointments, the years tick past, and each character is shaped by others’ actions, as well as the country’s changing political and social turmoil. Gray gradually reveals the painful events that forced Oz, Pearl, and Tommy to leave Alabama in 1962 and head north. Along the way, there are plenty of razor-sharp observations (“They calling this a riot? This ain’t no riot. It’s a uprising. A rebellion,” remarks a preacher in 1967). Gray does not disappoint. Agent: Michelle Brower, Trellis Literary. (Apr.)