Judith D Collins
By Mary Marcus
Publisher: The Story Plant
Publication Date: 4/28/2015
My Rating: 5 Stars +
Mary Jacob grew up as an anomaly. A child of Louisiana in the early sixties, she found little in common with most of the people in her community and in her household, and her best friend was Lavina, the black woman who cooked and cleaned for her family.
Now, in the early nineties, Mary Jacob has escaped her history and established a fresh, if imperfect, life for herself in New York. But when she learns of her father's critical illness, she needs to go back home. To a disapproving father and a spiteful sister. To a town decades out of alignment with Mary Jacob's new world. To the memories of Billy Ray, Lavina's son who grew up to be a musical legend whose star burned much too bright.
And to the echoes of a fateful day three decades earlier when three lives changed forever. A decades-spanning story both intimate and enormous in scope, LAVINA is a novel rich in humanity, sharp in its indictments, and stunning in its resolution.
A special thank you to The Story Plant and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Loved, loved everything about LAVINA by Mary Marcus --beautifully crafted, from the stunning front cover, the well-developed characters, setting, plot, and remarkable storytelling. Marcus skillfully crafts and unveils the lives, layer by layer, of two families, rich and poor, black and white, past and present-- for a powerful story, set in the Deep South in the sixties. A small town of Louisiana with racial unrest, filled with music, pain, turmoil, heartache, determination, and courage. From the big white house on Fairfield Street, to the wrong side of town on Morehouse Road. One with wealth, and no love, to one of poverty with boundless love to give. Mary Jacob: At the opening of the novel, in the early nineties, Mary Jacob, a well-known children’s book author is flying home to Murpheysfield, Louisiana from New York. Her books are centered around a little black girl, named Vina, the star character, in memory of her beloved former black housekeeper, Lavina. She loved this woman more than anyone or anything in her life, while being a part of a total dysfunctional family. Without Lavina, her childhood would have been unbearable. Her former childhood home, is a place holding many bad memories, those she can recall; a family, and a home she left years ago, never to return. A town taking away her Lavina. Her father, Jack Long is dying and on his death bed, has requested her return. A father who was cruel and never a father to her. Of course, her nasty sister from Atlanta she despises will be there, as well. Needless to say, she is not looking forward to this visit. A tragic event occurred back in 1963 when she was twelve years old, the day at the sit-in, at Woolworths, the day Martin Luther King was to be in town. Certain critical parts of her life are missing. She continues to dream of an African American boy called Billy Ray, her first kiss, as she recalls telling him to run for his life. Billy Ray: Billy grew up poor, in Murpheysfield with a father who left at an early age. It was only his mom, Lavina, going to work every day as a maid for the rich white family, he grew to despise. He hated being poor until one day the hum came. His musical ability with his harmonica – his discovery “Diamond Buttons”, his mom’s wig, and sunglasses; making him famous in all the jazz clubs and his rise to the top of the charts. Of course, with this fame came drugs and other vices. His fame came a little too late – He was on top of the world to help save his mother so she could finally escape this town and this life; however, a tragedy occurred which took his beloved mother. Now he is returning to this Godforsaken town in Louisiana to perform a gig, possibly for a second chance. However, after all these years, he still wants answers to that day long ago at Woolworth’s. The day of the sit-in, and he cannot forget the girl, Mary Jacob—the girl who saved his life. When he learns she is also returning to her hometown, he has to see her. He knows the girl in the books was named for his mother. His mother and Mary Jacob were close and neither of them could save his mother. Marcus takes us back from the present to the early sixties, as we learn about Mary Jacob, a misfit, the youngest daughter of a powerful good-looking rich man, a string of ex-wives, a man who is part of a group of racial injustice and carrying on with a younger woman under everyone’s nose, a poor mother coming from a Jewish wealthy family who has cancer, staying in her room on the upper level drugged out, and an older mean, self-absorbed sister, Kathyrn, and her sister’s beautiful friend and daughter of her father’s deceased best friend, Van. She has no one except her faithful best friend, Lavina. Three strong characters bound by love Lavina, Mary Jacob, and Billy Ray for an emotional and heartfelt story which will keep you laughing and crying at the same time--characters you will long remember, well after the book ends. Written with compassion, humor, and insights into the realistic times of this era for a combination of southern, women's, and historical fiction; racial injustice, family drama, mystery, intrigue, coming of age, and suspense. A magical tale, taking me back, having grown up in the South about the same age as Mary Jacob-- I laughed so hard at some of the things of her childhood, which I could relate. Loved characters, Lavina and Mary Jacob – these two had a special bond and loved the banter and dialect (did not want the book to end). You know when you are reading a great book and feel sadness when it is over? Just one more chapter . . . The author brings magic to each word on the page with beautiful lyrics, prose, and music. I felt so bad for Billy Ray, as was hoping for a real reunion with he and Mary Jacob, as wanted to see these two together without an audience. (Possibly a sequel)? These characters are too good to end, as my kind of book! Fans of Diane Chamberlain, Sarah Jio, Charles Martin, and Wiley Cash will appreciate the rich history, human dynamics and insights. If you enjoyed Dollbaby, by Laura Lane McNeal, you are assured to fall in love with LAVINA. Highly recommend! Can't wait to read more from this exciting newfound author; she knows the South, with pitch perfect dialect.
About the Author
Very Briefly….I was born and raised in Louisiana, but left for New York after graduating from Tulane. I worked very hard to get rid of my southern accent, and now I wish I hadn’t.
For many years, I worked in the advertising and fashion industries for Neiman Marcus, Vogue, Lancome, Faberge and San Rio Toys where I worked on the Hello Kitty Brand. My short fiction has appeared in North Atlantic Review, Fiction, Jewish Women’s Literary Journal and others. My husband, Joel Goodman and I live in Los Angeles and East Hampton, New York. We have a grown son, Amos Goodman. Website