Absalom’s Daughters is the story of two teenage girls from Mississippi who brave the Jim Crow South of the 1950s to claim their inheritance from their no-good daddy, who abandoned them. First there’s Cassie, a black girl who is self-educated and helps her grandmother and her mother, Lil Ma, with their laundry business. Her half-sister, Judith, white, is illiterate and wants to be a radio singer, singing what others call “colored” music, with which Judith has fallen in love.
Abandoned by their father and dirt poor, it is Judith who discovers their father has come into an inheritance in Virginia, where he has fled. She talks Cassie into coming with her to their share of this inheritance. Reluctant at first, Cassie finally agrees, and the two set out in what must be the worst escape vehicle ever. Somehow, they get from point A to point B, find help along the way, and learn a lot about people and life on their journey.
The concept of the book is sound, and there are bits of humor throughout. However, the main problem is there is little difference between the sisters’ voices, and this leads to confusion about who is who. The dialect is heavy, almost Faulkner-like. But of course, being set in Mississippi with a title like “Absalom’s Daughters,” the reference to Faulkner can’t be missed.
As a fan of Southern fiction, I was disappointed in the character development. No one rang true for me, with the possible exception of the old man who tells “mule” stories to Cassie. However, there are many interesting aspects to the novel, such as the obsession some of the characters have with skin color variations. The internalized racism Cassie’s grandmother exhibits is difficult to read, and sad.