In the Face of the Sun

Written by Denny S. Bryce
Review by Sarah Johnson

In late May 1968, when Francine “Frankie” Saunders climbs into her Aunt Daisy’s gorgeous new Ford Mustang, her aim is to flee Chicago and her abusive husband. She fears for her safety and that of the unborn child he doesn’t know about. Frankie barely knows Daisy, an irreverent, weed-smoking woman of nearly sixty who’s been estranged from Frankie’s mother for forty years, but she desperately needs Daisy’s help. On the wild road trip these two Black women take to Los Angeles, across two thousand miles with many bumps and detours, Frankie hopes to learn what caused the argument between Daisy and her mother. Daisy has another motive in mind for the journey’s end: revenge against someone from her past.

These two characters and their world jump off the page in radiant detail: their contrasting personalities, their distinctive looks (Daisy resembles a film star with her cat-eyed sunglasses, gingham dress, and perfect makeup), and their approaches to navigating America just two months after Martin Luther King’s assassination. A second narrative, set in 1928, follows twenty-year-old Daisy Washington as she works as a chambermaid for LA’s Hotel Somerville, a prestigious facility catering to the Black elite. After her mother suffers a mental and physical breakdown, Daisy, a would-be journalist, aims to keep her younger sister, Henrietta, out of trouble while collecting celebrity gossip for a friend’s newspaper column. Both threads of this propulsive story ultimately lead to the same destination: the revelation of the terrible event that divided the Washington sisters.

In her second novel, Bryce shines light on notable people and events from American history, from civil rights activists Drs. Vada and John Somerville and the actor Stepin Fetchit to the painful wounds of Tulsa. The scenes are cinematically vivid, the language fresh and vibrant, the characters complicated and real.