It is 1950 in Wyandotte County, Kansas, and October Brown is a happy lady. She has her degree, a classroom full of third graders, and a good place to stay, with other teachers for company. To top it all off, one day a man comes to put on the storm windows and he waltzes right into her heart. He is perfect, except for one thing --- he is married.
All too late, October realizes she has been naive. James Wilson, already a father, will be the father of her child too. But a trip home to Chillicothe may provide the solution. Vergie, October's married sister, longs for a child. She and her husband will raise October's baby as their own --- in secret. The child is not to know, nor is the child's father. It seems like a sensible solution to the two sisters and Vergie's husband. They will welcome the baby and love it. There will be no regrets.
In abbreviated form, this is the story of OCTOBER SUITE, though there is much more to tell. For one, there is the unfinished story of October and Vergie's mother and father. What happened in the weeks and days before they died, before their Ohio aunts came to claim the two girls?
The star of the show is, indisputably, October. She adjusts and shoves depression aside by sewing at her beloved Singer. She makes a real relationship with a man worthy of her. She mends fences.
Like October, most of the characters in OCTOBER SUITE are African Americans --- more specifically, African Americans in a changing society. The fashions, the furniture, the music, and other cultural artifacts provide the novel's setting, and the social and political push and pull provide the novel's depth.
There are surprises in the last chapters, mostly happy, unexpected ones --- the best kind. Hats off to Ms. Clair. The hat I tip: 100% wool felt and classy, just like this novel.
Reviewed by Jean Marchand on September 25, 2001