Reviewed by Tiffany M. Davis
A JOURNEY ELSEWHERE
TAGS: Bernice McFadden, Akashic Books, slavery, family reunion, Yamasee Indian
Bernice McFadden is an exceptionally gifted writer; her award-winning and critically acclaimed novels Glorious, The Warmest December and A Gathering of Waters are testament to that. In the re-release of her novel Nowhere is a Place, which was first published in 2006, we are reminded that all successful authors began with raw skill--emphasis on raw.
Sherry is a woman escaping from bad decisions and bad relationships. While attempting to heal her soul in Mexico, she decides that further healing can come from the annual family reunion in Sandersville, Georgia, which she has not attended in years. Sherry calls her mother, Dumpling, and asks her to come along on a road trip to the reunion. Sherry's intentions are to repair the breach in the relationship between her and her mother, while Dumpling looks forward to seeing the family she left behind over twenty years ago and spending time with the emotionally estranged Sherry. As they travel to the reunion, Sherry's attempts at recording her family's history brings up unpleasant memories for Dumpling, and the healing that Sherry hopes to achieve is in danger of becoming derailed.
The novel jumps back and forth between the past and present, visiting Sherry and Dumpling's ancestors--slaves of African and Yamasee Indian descent--and showing how the past has a definite impression upon the future. The novel also alternates between Sherry's and Dumpling's points of view; interestingly enough, while Sherry's story begins the novel, it is Dumpling's observations, told in first person, that provide the spine of the story. The shuffling between eras is not confusing and provides an interesting backdrop to the upcoming family reunion. Unfortunately, each recollection of the ancestral past reads more as separate entities that lack cohesion to each other. In effect, the novel reads almost like a collection of short stories that are narrated by the strong, no-nonsense voice of Dumpling. The overall premise of the story makes sense--family road trip provides deeper knowledge of self and mending of family rifts--but its delivery is where McFadden falls short. The only true continuity in this novel is that of genealogy. As this was one of her earlier novels, it is clear to see how her craft has grown and matured in the seven years since Nowhere is a Place was first published.
McFadden is deft at creating memorable characters that are easily likeable and identifiable. Dumpling shines as the inadvertent star of this novel. Lovey, Dumpling's sister, also makes a strong though relatively brief appearance. Sherry, while this is allegedly her story as well, pales in comparison and her frailties and shortcomings don't make her as likeable as her mother. Indeed, this reviewer questions Sherry's importance in the novel. However, some of the secondary characters fall short, which makes their storylines fall short also. In particular is Jeff, nicknamed “Brother”, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia and Dumpling's great-great-uncle. His life after the death of his twin brother and accidental takeover of the plantation could have been developed more, and left this reviewer wanting more of how his brother's death affected his life, including the fact that he never married or had children.
Perhaps the most pressing question this reviewer had was, what legacy was passed down to Dumpling and Sherry? What is the true importance of Sherry's notebook, in which she has fictionalized what little family lore she'd learned prior to her trip with Dumpling? How will all of this affect her relationship with Falcon, her man in Mexico? There are a lot of questions that the book did not satisfy readily, although the answers are swirling faintly about in the background, waiting to be solidified. Despite its flaws, Nowhere is a Place still makes an interesting read.
Tiffany M. Davis is the Senior Editor of QBR: The Black Book Review. She has been published in anthologies and The Backlist newsletter, and has contributed her award-winning writing and editorial services to clients that include National Geographic, Sodexho, the American Society for Cell Biology, and Triple Crown Publications. A graduate of Georgetown University and a former chef trained at the Culinary Institute of America, she currently lives in Georgia.