Eric Jerome Dickey's latest novel, GENEVIEVE, may possibly be his best one yet. The novel opens with a very steamy sex scene, revealing at the end of the scene that the unnamed narrator is having an affair with his wife's sister. Quite a shocking way to grab the reader's attention, but it works!
After this blast of an opening, the narrator explains what leads him to have an affair with his sister-in-law, and the story of Genevieve begins. While Genevieve's history is not very clear at first, the narrator --- her husband --- tells his story in detail, starting with his early years living in Pasadena, Texas with his mother. His life started from humble and tragic beginnings, losing his mother at a very young age to a car accident that he feels responsible for. Throughout the novel, the narrator flashes back to that accident, which evidently shaped the rest of his life. He is now a very successful research analyst, making his career in Southern California, doing cancer and AIDS research.
Genevieve's past remains mostly a mystery, except we know that she also lost her parents while very young and was raised by her grandmother, her mother's sister. It is the funeral of her grandmother, Willie Esther, that brings Genevieve and her husband back to her roots in Alabama, a life that she had wanted to keep buried. It is her past, and she does not want to remember any of it, nor does she want her husband to know about it. But, with Genevieve's family about to meet her husband, it is inevitable that he learns about her childhood and what made her turn her back on her family, including her sister.
Upon arriving in town for the funeral, Genevieve's husband accidentally meets her sister Kenya in the hotel lobby, not knowing who she is at that point. Their meeting is electric, and when Genevieve later introduces them to each other, neither lets on that this is not their initial meeting. It is obvious that Kenya and her brother-in-law are about to venture into forbidden areas. Genevieve, with her focus on her grandmother's death, does not seem to notice anything.
Contrary to what readers may think, their affair isn't what the book is all about. GENEVIEVE (pronounced "ZHOHN vee EHV") is all about dealing with one's past in order to move forward into the future, with Genevieve as well as her husband needing to confront their demons from their pasts in order to move forward with their marriage. Dickey does a good job blending the past with the present, using flashbacks to help create the history of the two main characters. With each new piece revealed, the reader understands a little bit more about what makes them both tick.
Told only from the viewpoint of the unnamed narrator, Genevieve's husband, GENEVIEVE has quite a different tone from Dickey's previous novels. There is more of a serious undertone in this one, delving into the psychology of how events and people can greatly change or shape an individual's personality. Genevieve became the high achiever that she was because of what happened to her at the hands of her grandmother, Willie Esther, a woman Genevieve despised, ultimately rejoicing when she learned of her death. The final shocker of the novel probably will throw the reader, as this reviewer did not see these secrets coming. After reading that last page, it was easy to see how GENEVIEVE is one of Dickey's best works so far. He is maturing as a writer, and it shows.
Fans of Eric Jerome Dickey will enjoy GENEVIEVE, a tale of betrayal, lies and family secrets, a book that also may entice brand-new fans to discover what one of the most popular writers of African American Lit is all about.
Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton (Ratmammy@lofton.org) on January 22, 2011