One House Over

Written by Mary Monroe
Review by G. J. Berger

Tall, ungainly, thirty-one-year-old African American Joyce MacPherson lives in her parents’ home, works as a teacher’s aide, and pines for a hot romance. Joyce’s parents own a grocery store, where Odell Watson is the new stock-boy. Joyce and Odell meet, fall in love, and are soon wed. Joyce has been frugal, and the new couple finds their own house. Despite deprivation brought on by the Great Depression, Joyce and Odell head down the road to a good future.

Their idyllic life soon turns uncomfortable. Odell is not the trustworthy husband and employee he appears, though Joyce refuses to see the mounting signs of Odell’s misdeeds. Bootleggers Milton and Yvonne move in “one house over.” They always seem short of cash and feast on Joyce and Odell’s food offerings. Their evening drinking crowds irritate the neighborhood.

Monroe tells the story in first person. Joyce’s and Odell’s contrasting views of what’s going on around them add intensity. Monroe treats the pain and hardships of African Americans trying to survive in the brutal Alabama of the 1930s with matter-of-factness—it’s just the way things are. The main characters sometimes lament their unfair treatment but never wallow. For the most part, the dialogue and prose fit the characters, though Odell’s storytelling lapses into language that’s too modern and proper for his background and education.

The last words of this novel (“To Be Continued”) will disappoint some readers. Odell’s treachery remains unresolved. Joyce’s awakening to jolting truths is yet to come, as is the fate of Milton and Yvonne. Despite that, this is a very believable portrayal of the African American experience in a hard place at a hard time.