Fried pies, eerie bayous, blues music and a five-point star badge were just some of the story elements that made reading Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke, a unique and genuine visit to contemporary East Texas life in a small town. Locke’s personal and in-depth knowledge of the area was apparent in everything she described, the characters who populated it, and the very real and present issue of racism that permeated all the story’s events.
We keenly felt for Geneva Sweet and all she’s had to endure in her life. We saw her as almost an earth-mother figure who dominates the town of Lark as much as her café. She’s a nurturer to all, as anyone needed a good meal or even a temporary place to stay is welcome at her café. It was also a point that all the men, black or white, who came within her sphere, wanted her approval and acceptance – some to the point of obsession.
Members were also taken by the way the author uses lyrics from blues songs to subtly re-inforce the chasm between black and white experiences living in this town. Locke’s handling of racial lines and issues pulls no punches, but somehow manages to feel unbiased – simply the truth. We talked about how Darren’s uncles’ use of the "ancient rules of southern living" is one example of how carefully, even warily, black men approach interacting with white people. They tell him: “Never go to town looking sorry or second rate”, and “don’t give them a reason to stop you”. Darren continues, that these are “(rules) going back generations in rural East Texas, black men for whom self-regard was both a natural state of being and a survival technique.”
This last point was one we talked about in our own area where the issue of being disrespected can often fuel violence. Like our Booked for the Day members (who have also discussed this book) we find it chilling that the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) really does exist – and that we were disgusted to note that many other states have branches or similar hate groups. We then talked about how incomprehensible the degree to which these groups pursue violence against other human beings, and that it is easily as horrific as the violence against Jews during the Holocaust. A member brought up the characters talking about the very real dragging death of James Byrd Jr. which repelled everyone.
We admired the way the author weaves the ways black and white characters interact with the twists of the plot and the final resolution of not only the crimes against the two initial victims, Michael and Missy, but against Joe Sweet and his son Joe Jr. These resolutions again highlighted for us how admirable and heart-breaking Geneva Sweet is. Her real anger against Missy’s killer and how it has deprived her child of a mother, as well as her willingness to visit her daughter-in-law (in prison for killing her son) clearly show that Geneva has her own code to live by, and no one is going to force her to act otherwise.
As for the plot twists, MAF members could congratulate themselves on being able to successfully track not only who killed whom, but who is related to whom. We celebrated that fact and this informative, thoughtful visit to East Texas with a Texas-themed lemon cake (despite the use of a cactus & Route 66 instead of Highway 59 on it)!
(With a bit of an edit to include Highway 59!)