Two best friends, Audrey Martin and Caroline Wallace, are the best of friends in Mt. Sterling, a small Kentucky town riddled by Jim Crow rules of segregation where one gets accustomed to thinking small. Our two heroines initially believe that they will rise to greatness – at least they will once they get out of this finicky little town still stuck in Confederate, segregationist thinking. Audrey’s father, determined to build a better life, was killed in WWII.
It’s now the 1950s, and the Jazz Age of America is blossoming. Audrey and Caroline begin to drift apart after Caroline’s father commits a horrific crime and is sent off to serve a long prison term. The years pass, and Audrey meets an agent who talks her into traveling to Harlem, where a whole new world for black people is growing, a fantasy of music and dance thrilling the spirits of players, singers and audience.
This novel focuses more on character studies of Audrey and Caroline than it does on the Jazz Age. Readers will be shocked by the cold, callous yet realistic negativity of Caroline. At the same time, they may also be puzzled by the tunnel vision Audrey exhibits, believing that the intellect and music can and will redeem all wrongs done to persons of color. The remarkable quality that makes this novel stand out is these feisty characters, who always respond in an extraordinary fashion, in an age when ordinary was the mandate for persons of color. Saint Monkey is a dynamic, tense, and exciting read, a critique and celebration of a powerful historical period. Very nicely done!