I decided to read this book when it was voted as one the top books of the century by NY Times. I am not sure if you have come across books that have layers. I personally believe that in really good books you can read the most obvious layer and still find a lot of pleasure in having read the book. This book falls into that category and it is not too surprising that the book found mention in a top ten list.
The story centers around the women influenced by one man – Bill Cosey. A rich African American living at a time when the race was still being ill-treated in the U.S. and dignity was not an easy thing to come by. Cosey runs a successful hotel for the rich and famous and manages to straddle a slippery line between rich white friends and poor black employees. He loves his wife Julia and after her death stays a bachelor well into his seventies till he marries his granddaughter’s best friend. This one action begins to slowly crumble the life of his widowed daughter in law May, his jealous grand daughter Christine and his confused young wife Heed, till all of them become mean-spirited, wounded and tormented souls not having lead the life they could have and holding on to their grudges well past Bill Cosey’s life.
There is also Vida, the help who loyally blames the Cosey women for the hotel’s eventual downfall and Sandler, her husband, who alone can tell us what Cosey was like from a man’s point of view. The couple’s grandson Romen takes up with Julia, a juvenile delinquent influenced by the spirit of Bill Cosey and residing with a later day Christine and Heed. Finally there is L, the cook of the hotel during its hey days speaking in what could have been the voice of reason.
I really liked the story of Christine and Heed and your heart aches for them. I am not sure if I could make too much sense of how Vida and Julia were influenced by Bill Cosey but in a book like this, you just take it in your stride and move on. The book’s appeal I guess lies in its absolutely stunning portrayal of how life can be influenced by love, whatever form it takes.
I have a sneaking suspicion that as I grow older and see more of life, parts of this book will only ring truer. For now, as I said, I took the layer I could see and just enjoyed that.