Dan spared neither effort nor expense to ensure a satisfying evening last Tuesday. Hard spirits came first, with an assortment of whiskies that included a bottle of Joy Juice with Little Onion on the label. Once we tucked in to dinner, several John Brown-inspired varietals were poured, courtesy of the graphics arts division of San Marino Cellars.
|Strong stuff, but a suspect likeness|
|John Brown: A Family of Vintners|
Most know James McBride for his deeply affecting memoir, The Color of Water, in which he examines race relations in the 50's and 60's through his own mixed-race upbringing. Our McBride selection, The Good Lord Bird, presents a different segment of black history, but also with a mixed-race child as narrator. Seen through the eyes of a slave boy involuntarily rescued (and thereafter dressed and addressed as a girl) by John Brown, the story is both poignant and hilarious as Brown and his outlaw band ultimately meet their destiny at Harper's Ferry two years later.
As a group, we were divided in our impressions of McBride's latest novel. Roy took issue with its historical accuracy, complaining that the pre-war reference to eating pheasant was sloppy (since pheasant wasn't introduced to America until the 1880's) and the caricature of John Brown as a nutcase fails to acknowledge that Brown was demonized by post-war historians with an axe to grind. Peter found the story slow and purposeless, but (like Dean) he enjoyed reading it in conjunction with seeing 12 Years A Slave. Most of the rest of us were less critical. John enjoyed the colorful vernacular, Doug and others appreciated the mixed motives of both Free Staters and Pro Slavers, Glenn and Paul remarked on Onion's story as a narrative of disguise, hiding, and survival (yet failed to mention The Book Thief!), and Jack and George (with murmurs from the rest of us) enjoyed a novel they might not otherwise have selected on their own--although George loudly objected to the cross-dressing conceit at the heart of the novel.
One indicator of a book's popularity is how many of us are able to finish it in time. In this case, 14 of us did, including Larry in absentia. Kudos to McBride. Unfortunately, his talents couldn't overcome the vote-canceling antics of Dean and Roy, who were egged on by Doug's pre-emptive 10. With a 7.6 average rating, McBride still produced a superior contribution to the MBC booklist.
Due to Stan's upcoming travels, it fell to me to propose titles for our next dinner. Because I pressed hard for my favorite read of 2013, the group graciously turned down Ishiguro's Remains of the Day and Walter's Beautiful Ruins in favor of The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. Next month we'll find out if others are as intrigued as I was by Hig, the protagonist at the center of a world undone by disease.