Attica Locke found the nugget for The Cutting Season (HarperCollins, $25.99) when she attended a wedding on a plantation. She transformed the actual location into the fictional Belle Vie, run as a historic theme-park by the Clancy family. When a young Hispanic woman is found murdered on the property, the incident and the investigation stir long-simmering personal, racial, and economic tensions. As Belle Vie’s owners try to manipulate each other, conflicts erupt among the workers; Caren Gray, a single-mother who runs the day-to-day operations, finds herself caught in the middle of it all. This is a complex, wonderfully written story that brings the past and the present together in a small town in post-Katrina Louisiana.
One of the beautiful things about books is that they can be rediscovered. In the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, a lot of rediscovering of lost writers went on, particularly of black novelists, poets, and essayists. With its signature elegance, the Library of America has just issued two new volumes devoted to the literary works of some of the rediscovered Harlem Renaissance figures; edited by Rafia Zafar, these books include Jean Toomer’s Cane, Wallace Thurman’s The Blacker the Berry, Nella Larsen’s Passing—to name just three novels I remember reading with great excitement once upon a time. Each work provides an opportunity to look back to an era when race determined everything from where a person could sit on a bus to whether he or she was too dark for a particular social circle. All the novels in the first collection and the four in the second depict a world we think is gone, but good fiction, like good history, shows us many ways to see the world, and reminds us of lessons we might otherwise forget.