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Vernon, Olympia.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Grove Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
254 pages ; 22 cm
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FICTION Adult Fiction African American

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A hypnotic, lyrical debut novel about a young black girl in the deep south who comes to confront the realities of sex, race, disease, and death, by a writer of extraordinary emotional depth."A profoundly raw and gripping read," (The Baltimore Sun) Olympia Vernon's fearless and wildly original debut novel explodes on the first page and sustains a tightrope intensity until the last. Set in Pyke County, Mississippi, Eden is a raw, heartbreaking, and enlightening novel that marks the emergence of a stunning and original talent. Narrated by fourteen-year-old Maddy Dangerfield, Eden opens in the moments after Maddy has impulsively drawn a naked woman on the pages ofGenesis in bright red lipstick during Sunday service. The community is scandalized, and her devout, long-suffering mother's response to her transgression is to force her to spend weekends nursing her dying Aunt Pip, an outcast who lives on the edge of town.From then on, Maddy must negotiate her two worlds: at the house where she lives with her hard-working, Bible-reading mother, Faye, and her father, Chevrolet--a one-armed drunk, gambler and womanizer--she is both a reluctant participant in and astute observer of the strange and confounding dynamics of her sometimes violent, sometimes tender family. (Years before, Maddy's grandmother--her mother's mother--chopped of Chevrolet's arm and fed it to the pigs afterhe and Pip were found together in the back room as Faye entertained friends from the church--and ever since, he has been am emasculated, desperate man--drinking and gambling his wife's money away, leaving her to clean up his mess time and again.) And then out on Commitment Road, she is caretaker to her Aunt Pip, whose only friend is her eccentric neighbor, Fat. Maddy's time with Pip and Fat opens her eyes to the exhilaration of speaking your own mind, living your life on your own terms and without apology, and also to the cost extracted by both. She learns that there are strengths that belong to women alone, and also that there is a kind of ravaging vulnerability that is terrifying and inescapable, and uniquely female.The world Maddy inherits is one of injustice and hypocrisy, one that requires black people work for the whites for little to no pay; that sent her Uncle Sugar to jail for raping a white woman--no questions asked--when Maddy was just a baby; that preaches Christian love and forgiveness even as its actions reflect the very opposite. But Maddy soon learns that there is somethingthat can work to oppose those truths, and that is knowledge; having the will and the ability to look beneaththe surface, to question what others take as a given. By the end of the novel, newly acquainted with mortality and her own fierce strength, Maddy comes to bear both the burden and the blessing of that knowledge.In lush, vivid brushstrokes, Olympia Vernon conjures a world that is both intoxicating and cruel, and illuminates the bittersweet transformation of the young girl who must bear the burden and blessing of its secrets too soon. Eden is a haunting, memorable novel propelled by the poetry and power of a voice that is complex, lyrical, and utterly true.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Fourteen-year-old Maddy Dangerfield is called upon to help her cancer-afflicted aunt Pip live out her last days. Maddy's mother, Faye, can't forgive her sister's betrayal of her with her own husband. Maddy is caught in the vortex of unresolved conflicts among the adults: a stoic, overworked mother who can't make peace with a dying sister; an alcoholic husband addicted to gambling; and a fiery aunt who has lived her life on her own terms. The small black community of Pyke County, Mississippi, is also saturated with unresolved conflicts, seething resentments, and violence. Pip's breast cancer and pariah status within the community inform Maddy at a time when she is wrestling with her own notions about sensuality, womanhood, religion, and family obligations. From Pip and a widowed neighbor, Maddy learns about life and disappointments and the consequences of choices. Vernon's writing is lyrical and emotionally powerful as she captures the tensions between the races and sexes in a small community of blacks eking out whatever living and dignity they can manage. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

A young girl is sent to nurse her dying aunt in this arresting, uncompromising debut. Fourteen-year-old Maddy Dangerfield lives with her parents in rural Mississippi: her mother, Faye, obese and devoutly religious, is "a maid for damn near every white man in Pyke County"; her alcoholic, illiterate father, Chevrolet, works in a scrap yard and spends the family's money on whores and gambling. One of his sexual conquests was Faye's sister, Pip, who is estranged from the family as a result. To teach Maddy about mortality (and to assuage her own conscience), Faye sends Maddy to Pip's home on weekends to help care for her as she succumbs to breast cancer. What makes the book stand out is not its relatively simple plot, but Vernon's idiosyncratic prose style ("he laughed and folded his arms as if he controlled my vocabulary") and Maddy's stark, often surreal perception of the world. Her burgeoning sexuality is illustrated less by her crush on young laborer Landy Collins than by the way she describes the tangled mess of smells and sensations that define the people around her, who are "all, in some way, falling apart." The tone is relentlessly grim, infused with religious superstition, racism and death; macabre events-Chevrolet's mutilation at the hands of his mother-in-law, the death of a troubled orphan, the slaughtering of a hog-are scattered like land mines throughout. But what Vernon's story lacks in optimism, it more than makes up for with raw power and insight. Agent, Amy Williams, ICM. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In Vernon's debut novel, 14-year-old Maddy Dangerfield, who is reminiscent of Celie in Alice Walker's The Color Purple or Ellen Foster in Kaye Gibbons's eponymous novel, must grapple with a cruel, impoverished existence. Her mother is trapped in a disturbing and violent marriage, the fate of most women in rural Pyke County, MS. Maddy's mother toils as a maid for local white folks to pay for her father's excesses. He gambles, drinks, and sleeps with other women, even his own sister-in-law, Pip. Not quite able to forgive her sister's betrayal, Maddy's mother sends Maddy to serve as caretaker when Pip becomes ill. Witnessing her passionate Aunt Pip succumb to breast cancer, Maddy learns too much too quickly. She also begins to confront what will likely be her harsh, unavoidable future-so very unlike Eden. As emotionally powerful as it is poetic, Vernon's raw and fierce first novel possesses a beautiful, albeit brutal, lyricism and introduces a strong new Southern voice. Highly recommended.-Faye A. Chadwell, Univ. of Oregon Libs., Eugene (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.