This book is not to be found in the horror or sci-fi sections (although there are ghosts lurking between its covers), but I wanted my first book review on this website to be this one because this novel inspired me to write again after a long drought. I am forever grateful to Jesmyn Ward for waking up my inner writer and am a fan of hers for life!
I originally posted this review on Amazon in 2018 and on a previous website I ran under a another name:
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward is not your run of the mill literary novel. It not only gives the reader a bird’s-eye view of what it’s like to be the child of a crystal meth addict, but also gives us insight into how the addict herself justifies her actions. The book begins from the point of view of a young boy, Jojo, who has been forced to take on too much responsibility at the age of thirteen, because of his mother’s obsession with her imprisoned boyfriend (his father) and her hopeless addiction to drugs. His younger sister, Kayla, seeks him when she is upset because he is her protector and sole caregiver. They live with their grandparents, but Jojo’s grandfather, while a loving figure in Jojo’s life, is the only caretaker of his dying wife. The book explores racial divides in Mississippi’s past and present. Jojo and Kayla live in the home of their black grandparents and are shunned by their white grandparents. It delves into graphic descriptions of lynchings, prison beatings, etc… And what makes the book extremely unique is the spiritual presence as a result of those violent circumstances. This is the first literary work I’ve read since A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini (another great book!) and I thoroughly enjoyed it! It definitely deserves 5 stars!
I’m hard at work on Part 2 of The Maid. I’m thinking it’s going to be a novel and I need a better title, so I’m working on that too. 🙂
Writing is both stimulating and draining at the same time. It is so satisfying to have a good idea, really know where you want to go with it and start slurping it from your brain into the written word. But the draining part, is feeling like you’ve really come up with something thrilling, but no one likes or comments on your blog/Twitter posts, even though WordPress Stats inform you that people have clicked on the post.
So then…the doubt sets in. Maybe it’s not as good as I thought, maybe I just suck, maybe I should quit…
The two brothers fell silent and continued walking through their old neighborhood. An elderly woman sitting on her front porch smiled and waved at the two men. They waved back. She stood up and called out to them, but they pretended not to hear and kept walking.
Their father was respected in the community and in a small town like Dale City that meant they were automatically respected because they were born into the right family. Their father, Samuel James, owned James Corp, the largest employer in town. Racism still existed in the mostly white, small Texas town, but even the racists had to show respect to the black man that employed them and paid above average wages even. There was no denying that the town had prospered with the arrival of James Corp in 1979.
But something had gone wrong with one of the projects. Their Dad’s company had always worked with the US government on various contracts, but this new top-secret project had changed the town. People were disappearing…
Reed stopped in his tracks. Jack almost ran into him because he had been texting his fiancé, Adita.
“I’ve never seen this house before,” said Reed.
“Maybe they built it while we were away at college,” said Jack.
“Look at it, Jack. It’s old.” The house looked like something from an old movie. It was gothic and in disrepair.
“Maybe they didn’t take good care of it,” said Jack.
“I’m going in,” said Reed.
“Are you crazy?”
“Oh, so the house does look spooky to you?” laughed Reed. But it was a nervous laugh. He felt uneasy.
“I’m not going in there,” said Jack.
“Well, suit yourself, but I am. This town is in the middle of a Twilight Zone episode and then this house appears out of nowhere? I’m going in,” said Reed as he started toward the house.
“Goddammit,” said Jack as he caught up to Reed.
When they stepped through the front door and it closed behind them their senses were overwhelmed. The fresh air from the Spring weather outside was replaced with a dank, musty odor that was so strong it felt as if it touched them and went down their throats. They couldn’t help coughing in a wasted attempt to get it out of their mouths. Their vision was bombarded with shades of gray and green and the silence squeezed them from all sides.
They managed to stop coughing, but they didn’t want to open their mouths. Reed pointed down a hall that was directly in front of them and Jack nodded. They started down it with Reed leading the way. When they reached the end of the hall it opened up to a large room with three doors that towered above them as they stepped into the room. The air was a little less stagnant in the circular room, so Reed was the first to speak.
“We have to see what’s behind those doors,” said Reed.
“Are you fucking crazy, Reed?! I’m done. I’m out of here!”
Reed grabbed Jack by the shoulders, facing him and said, “Don’t you see, Jack?! Can’t you feel it?!”
“See what? Feel what? All I see and feel is an old, ratty house that we should just burn down or some shit,” said Jack.
“I don’t know why, but I get a strong sense that what we need to save the town is behind one of those doors. Please help me, Jack…for Adita,” said Reed.
Jack stared at his brother for what seemed like fifteen minutes, but in reality, was more like fifteen seconds. Reed had always been a little different and his instincts had always been good, so Jack nodded his head and said, “Okay, Reed. I trust you.”
Reed smiled then turned around and faced the doors. There were three of them, all dark and gray and covered in mold and what seemed like centuries of dust and grime.
“Which one should we try?” asked Jack.
“Always go left to right,” laughed Reed.
They slowly approached the door on the left, Reed in front with Jack right behind him. Reed opened the door. There was nothing. A vast, dark void of what they could only describe as nothingness spread in all directions before them. Reed shut the door. He moved to the next door. They stood in silence before it for a few seconds. Reed opened it and was immediately yanked inside by a vast whirling vortex.
Jack cried out to Reed, but his words were lost in the void. Jack dropped to the floor, remembering his Summer camp counselor training. But before he could reach out his arms into the swirling darkness to pull his brother back in, he felt something pin down his legs, as if holding him down. Jack looked back to see who it was, but saw no one. He didn’t have time to question it, so he reached out, grabbed Reed’s arms and yanked him back in. The door slammed shut behind them and the force that had been holding Jack’s legs was gone. They had both tumbled back a bit into the middle of the room and sat there gasping for air.
Once Jack caught his breath he said, “That’s it, I’m done!”
“Jack please!” We have to try the last door! Humanity is counting on us!” implored Reed.
“Humanity?! Have you lost your mind?! Nobody cares about what’s happening in this crappy, little town!” shouted Jack.
“I know it sounds crazy, but while I was in the vortex, someone or something communicated with me. Don’t you feel a presence here, Jack?” asked Reed.
“No!” Jack lied. He wasn’t about to admit the presence he felt saving him from being sucked into the vortex along with Reed. “This place is nuts, and you’re letting your imagination run away with you!” said Jack.
“Okay, then humor me. We’ve come this far. Let’s try the last door. Please, Jack,” said Reed.
…a few seconds of silence as Reed waited for Jack’s answer. Then…”Okay, dammit,” Jack said, barely above a whisper.
The brothers faced the last door. They approached it together, shoulder to shoulder. They stopped directly in front of the door, exchanged a look, and then Reed reached out and turned the knob. The door opened to a breathtaking view; rolling green hills covered with wildflowers, trees and streams greeted their eyes. They could smell honeysuckle or lavender, or both maybe and they could even hear the distant sounds of the streams rushing down the hills. They looked at each other again and smiled.
Reed stepped through first, but when Jack stepped through too, they were forced back out the door because the pressure of the air or something closed in on them and they couldn’t breathe. They both fell back into the house gasping for air. After they caught their breath, Reed said, “I think we have to go in one at a time.”
“I’m not going back in there,” said Jack.
“I’m sure what we need is in there. I can feel it,” said Reed.
“Fine, then you go in and I’ll stand watch out here,” said Jack.
“Okay,” said Reed. He took one last look at his brother and then stepped back through the door as it shut behind him.
Jack frantically tried to open the door, but it wouldn’t budge. “Reed! Reed!” he yelled as he pounded on it. There was no response, so he waited. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and was about to dial, 911, but there was no signal. Jack froze. He didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t abandon his brother, but they needed help. Before he could decide, Reed burst through the door, landing in his arms and gasping for breath.
Once his breathing returned to normal, Reed said, “Even going one at a time, we can only stay in there for a short time before the pressure becomes too intense. We have to take turns and keep track as we go. We need to make a map.”
“A map? How?” asked Jack.
Reed stood up, walked across the room and ripped off a piece of the rotting windowsill. “We can use this to scratch a map into the layers of dirt on the door itself. I’ll start. I went off to the right of the first hill and it was a dead end,” said Reed as he drew the route he described. “You have to go next.”
“No,” said Jack.
“You have to. The pressure is too great. It’s too exhausting for just one of us to do it,” said Reed.
“Fine,” said Jack. Then he stepped through the door. He burst back through only seconds later , gasping for breath. He caught his breath and added his contribution to the map. They continued this way a few more times and this time when Jack came back, after adding to the map, he said, “I’m sorry Reed, I can’t go in again. I’m exhausted.” And he slumped to the floor.
“Okay, I’m going in one more time. I know I’m going to find it this time,” said Reed.
Reed stepped through the door and like all the times before, he felt a sense of peace in this world before the pressure set in. He thought of this as another world now because he could feel it in all his being that he was no longer on Earth. He continued on a new path with a sense of urgency. There was no time for existential thoughts. He was on a mission.
And then he saw her. Her back was turned toward him. She was wearing a French maid’s uniform and she had the figure for it. Her skin was porcelain and her wavy, black hair was piled high on top of her head. She was bent over something, but he couldn’t see what it was. He walked closer even as the pressure once again closed in on his chest.
She heard him and straightened up and Reed saw what the thing was below her, just as she turned her face toward him. There were empty holes where eyes should have been, and her mouth was filled with long, sharp teeth. Her mouth opened and a deafening sound escaped. Reed was thrown through the door back into his world.
Reed was on his back in the room again with his brother leaning over him. Reed looked at his brother and said, “She has it.”