Lavina: A Novel. Mary Marcus. The Story Plant. April 2015. 358 pp. ISBN#: 9781611882018.
It takes a while to figure out who’s who in this richly nuanced novel depicting the civil rights struggle. Mary Marcus is a believer in those who march for the cause because of the intimate relationship she had with Lavina, the black woman who cooked for the Marcus family. Now Mary has returned to a father who is obviously terminally ill and a sister who is just downright mean. Lavina’s son is the famous Billy Ray Davis, the harmonica player of musical legend, but his life is a sad outcome of the harsh divisions of the time.
Billy only feels connected to life when he’s making music or presenting it although his appeal has declined later on. It may be the drugs that take over his life more frequently. Later, he swears he’s clean but the wild yearning never goes away and the drugs were all that ever covered over the loneliness he has felt constantly. Mary describes that sense so well without ever precisely naming it.
Now Mary has returned to watch her father die, a father she has hated for most of her life. The care she always wanted has come too late and so it is bittersweet to say the least. Lavina remembers the years of black struggle, hated by the whites she served. Yet there was always fear mixed with the ever-yearning dreams, hopes, aspirations for a different world. Yet in the middle of the mixed emotions, Lavina is the only one who has a realistic sense of humor, a healthy sign that life really isn’t all that dismal as the people around her seem to be hell-bent on proving otherwise.
The story is told in different voices that reflect all of the above and so much more, reading like sultry blues with occasional bursts of something approaching a wild, musical cornucopia.
Lavina… is a historical novel written in a unique style of reminiscences that brings alive the period of the 1960s to the 1990s. It’s got swagger, violence, languorous moments, and nostalgia to go with each phase of the historical and familial evolution. Very nicely crafted, Mary Marcus!