Thursday, May 1, 2014

Near the Hope by Jennifer Davis Carey

It is the sharp turn of the twentieth century, and Barbados is an island emptying out, as young men chase their fortunes on the Panama Canal or a merchant's vessel, and women seek the promise held in passage to the United States.  New York is an island swelling with hopeful arrivals keen to make their way on level soil.  In the thick of this rush is Dellie Standard, a young emigrant to the city eager to be freed from the cycle of the sugar cane crop and the colonial manor to craft a life of her own, one that is for more than just a piece of someone else's.

A promise made to her recently deceased mother compels Dellie to leave her beloved island, and with it the love of her life, Pendril Stoute.  Dellie eventually carves out her own life and livelihood in the city, with a business as a seamstress and a marriage of convenience to Owen Gibson, an American Pullman porter.  However, just as Dellie begins to secure a shaky foothold on her new land, a tragedy pushes her to near madness. (taken from the back of the book)

This book is Carey's debut novel, and as such, I'm impressed.  The characters are strong.  The storytelling is easy and compelling.  There's enough backdrop to the story to keep you interested even when things with the main character are going slowly.  Not only does it convey the world at the time through the Dellie's life, but you get a good glimpse of it without being bored with facts.

I thoroughly enjoyed Dellie.  She's a strong heroine with her own beliefs and the strength to do whatever she has to do.  Most of the other women are similarly built, we just get a much more firm grasp of the inside of Dellie's head.  Most of the men are fascinating and have an exotic charm to them, while at the same time being yielding.

Though I've never been to Barbados, I feel now like I have been.  Carey has a way of leading your brain to create this wonderfully vivid place without having to give every detail.  The reading is smooth and keeps you sucked in. It's almost like you're a little cricket in Dellie's pocket, seeing the world through her eyes.

The timing of the story is actually quite fascinating.  Barbados is on the decline.  People are seeking to move to Panama and America or joining ships to set sail.  They all know that their futures must be found elsewhere.  Families are torn and lives are left in the lurch everywhere.  We get a good strong look at unions and working conditions as well as the society at the time.  America was becoming a hodgepodge of different colors and no matter the color, there was animosity against those that were different.

I had one issue.  Chupse.  I'm so sick of this word that I pray I never read or hear it again.  They chupse when they're surprised, happy, angry.  If it's a feeling, there's chupsing involved.  Sometimes it's subtle and sometimes it can be heard from three rooms over, which fascinates me since I personally cannot chupse at all and cannot imagine a chupse that loud.  Perhaps chupsing was the thing of the time.  Maybe everyone really did chupse over every little thing.  I'm not sure.  I just know the chupsing annoyed the crap out of me.

This is a great character study as well as time period piece.  The most exciting part for me, personally, is that I was actually sucked into the romance.  So many times it's overdone and I find it a turnoff.  Here, Carey pulls it off with grace and style.  She has truly learned that in this area, less is more.

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