Reviewed by Vanady Enjoli
TAGS: O.H. Bennett, Agate Bolden Books, redemption, boarding house
With this latest exploration into the complexity of the modern family, O.H. Bennett delivers a masterfully written narrative about loss, the hope of redemption, and the ties that truly connect us in Creatures Here Below.
Everyone has a past, secrets, regrets, or a former version of themselves they hold on to in hopes of somehow returning to their previous glory. The characters in this novel find themselves challenged by the ability to move forward in their present reality, constantly operating out of the pain and memories of their past. Gail, the owner of a boarding house, is plagued by the guilt of past decisions and the demise of the relationship with eldest son, Mason. Mason, a troubled teen struggling to find his identity, is haunted by the father he never really knew. Jackie is a young mother not quite ready to settle down and Annie is an older woman who is not quite ready to accept the decline of her health.
Told in seamless, alternating narratives by Mason, Gail, Jackie, and Annie, the story begins at Gail’s boarding house ,where she resides with her two sons Mason and Tyler. She has welcomed Jackie and Annie to stay with her in order to help make ends meet. Gail’s relationship with Mason is strained, at best, and each day that passes reminds the other that Mason is slowly becoming a replica of Pony, the father he never knew. Tyler has become Gail’s pride and joy, a sweet-natured boy who spends his time singing in the church choir. Tyler’s father, Dan, frequents the house quite often and it is clear that their history and time together remains unresolved. Jackie has a young son, Cole, but hasn’t given up her carefree ways, preferring to pass the responsibility of her son to others. Annie, stuck in the past, refuses to accept she is no longer the woman she once was. Exasperated by his life with Gail, Mason leaves home and finds an unexpected ally in a woman named Gina. In the midst of Mason’s absence, the women face a series of disappointments, but these setbacks bind the women together.
The true beauty of this story is Bennett's ability to weave the complex viewpoints of four different characters into a story that flows easily.The one drawback is that the characters are clichéd: the older black woman worn down by life; the wayward son; the young mother of a fatherless child, who refuses to grow up; and an older woman in denial. Still, their stories are captivating, and the reader will find themselves identifying with the authenticity of the storylines rather than criticizing the plot, which could easily become contrived by a writer with less skill. The story is complex, beautiful, but bittersweet, leaving the reader nothing short of satisfied.
Vanady Enjoli is an avid reader and member of Fresh Anointing City of Refuge Church. A graduate of George Mason University and a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., she lives in Northern Virginia.