Caren Gray grew up at Belle Vie, happy as a child there but became ever more anxious to escape its clutches the older she got. First, school took her away, then the love of a man kept her away, and she believed she had finally made a clean break. Then, a few years ago, when her life was falling apart, she came back to the only place she felt safe, the place her family had worked for generations. They needed someone with her management skills, and she needed a job. It was only temporary, she told herself. Then years passed, and Belle Vie seemed to have gotten its hooks into Caren once again.
"Attica Locke writes with passion and grace, and her prose sparkles through every sentence. She takes a look back at racial issues with a delicate hand as she examines the frailties of relationships."
Belle Vie, an old plantation with great historical significance, now draws visitors for tours, re-enactments and private parties. Carefully maintained, its current purpose is to portray life in the mid-1800s around the time Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Belle Vie has been in the Clancy family for over a century and a half, and Caren’s ancestors had been there just as long. Caren always believed the Clancys had been good employers. Now, a seed of doubt has begun to grow.
Fiercely protective of her daughter Morgan, who is coming up on her 10th birthday, Caren feels that their home on the property provides a welcome isolation from the world’s temptations and rampant dangers. She can protect Morgan here in a way that would be more than challenging in the city. But that feeling changes when a woman’s body is found on the grounds in the early morning hours one cold day, her throat slit.
Caren was the one who discovered the body outside one of the slave cabins named for her great-great grandfather, Jason. Is there any significance to that location? Whether there is or not, Caren is thereafter drawn to explore what happened to Jason, who simply disappeared one day. His story has remained a mystery over the many years since he vanished. Maybe now she will have a chance to solve it, while she also tries to figure out what happened to the murdered woman. It wouldn’t be any of her business except that one of her actors, Donovan, a troubled young man with a difficult past, has been charged with the crime, and Caren is convinced that he’s being railroaded. But why?
When it seems apparent that her daughter knows more about the dead woman than she’s saying, Caren calls Eric, Morgan’s father, in Washington, D.C. Eric is getting married next month, but his daughter means the world to him. It is a matter of a few short hours before he rushes to help out. He is solidly a family man, so why didn’t he stay with Caren? Watching the two of them together, it quickly becomes clear that there is unfinished business between them.
As Caren is forced to rethink her future, she learns a lot about Belle Vie, its staff, Eric, and her daughter Morgan, but mostly herself. She looks for answers about her past and, in doing so, realizes a world of possibilities.
Attica Locke writes with passion and grace, and her prose sparkles through every sentence. She takes a look back at racial issues with a delicate hand as she examines the frailties of relationships. The injustices of the times are woven into her story mounting with suspense. THE CUTTING SEASON is a fine novel to follow BLACK WATER RISING, Locke’s smashing debut.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on September 21, 2012