Mags Preacher, a young black woman with a dream, arrives in St. Louis from the piney woods of her family home in 1916, hoping to learn the beauty trade. She knows nothing about Jews except that they killed the Lord Jesus Christ. Then she begins working for Mr. Fishbein, an Eastern European émigré who fled the pogroms that shattered his life to become the proprietor of Fishbein’s Funeral Home. By the time he saves Mags from certain death during the 1917 race riots in East St. Louis, all her perceptions have changed. But Mr. Fishbein’s daughter, the troubled redheaded beauty Minerva, is a different matter. There is something wrong with the girl, something dangerous, something fateful. And it is Magnus Bailey, Mags’ first friend in the city, who learns to what heights and depths the girl’s willful spirit can drive a man.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I had a difficult time with this book. The story jumps from Mags to Magnus and then Minerva, back to Mags, to Aurora then back to Minerva. Such a huge cast of characters, all needing to tell their story.
It begins interestingly enough, with a young country girl arriving in the big city with a dream. We meet Magnus, who runs a number of businesses with Fishbein, a Jew who owns, among other pursuits, a funeral home. Mags gets a job there, falls in love, has a child. Her husband is killed in a riot. Fishbein, his daughter Minnie, Mags, her child and Magnus all leave town.
What follows is what seems like an odd wandering through time and Tennessee. Magnus discoveres that Minnerva(Minnie) has fallen for him. He runs from her with a lie. She discovers the lie, is terribly hurt by it and as a result runs off to become a prostitute and runs a highly favored house of il repute.
At some point in the book Magnus realizes that he actually loves Minerva and runs off to find her, however having entrapped himself with Aurora, has to sneak around and make his way back to Minnie.
There’s a lot of time building up this illicit relationship and then it is… shall we say resolved… in a mere paragraph. I often feel like authors spend so much time avoiding a sagging middle that the end is an abrupt point at which the story simply drops off a cliff. Then things get all tied up and everyone’s all better.
As a point of grammatical contention, I get that some authors think the omission of quotation marks is artistic or symbolic or meaningful, but is such a distracting, horrible new trend and I really, as a book reader, would like it to stop. It pulls me right out of the story when I have to read a sentence twice to figure out if it’s dialog or exposition.
I’m trying not to let that weigh my decision to rate this book as three stars. A story of unrequited love between a Jewish woman and a black man sounds perfect on paper. I didn’t relish the execution.
I was furnished a copy from the publisher via Netgalley.