The Water and the Blood
Readers of this journal frequently bemoan the preponderance of 20th century settings in their fiction. The focus on time period above storytelling ability might cause them to miss this wonderful tale, and that would be a pity. The setting is the Bible Belt of East Texas in the 1940s; the heroine is Philadelphia “Frosty” Summers, the misfit middle daughter of a devout Southern Baptist family.
As the story opens, Frosty is running from a horrible misdeed, the burning of a Negro church by a group of bigoted youths who are the local high school’s pride and joy. In Sabine, Texas, the town’s religious leaders run the KKK by night, a fact that’s well known and accepted, if never spoken about in daylight. It’s only after Frosty escapes her town and abusive mother by working for the war effort in California that she gains some semblance of freedom and realizes she doesn’t have to buy into her family’s legacy. Racial conflict pervades the novel, as seen in the Negro families Frosty befriends as a child – who tell her that she doesn’t belong with them, either – and in her relationship with Gordon Benally, a Native American soldier who doesn’t fit neatly into any racial category.
Growing up, one goes through a series of significant changes in personality and outlook without even realizing that it’s happening, and the reader experiences this along with Frosty. Her window on the world is gradually opened, and once the transformation was complete several hundred pages later, I was amazed at the author’s accomplishment. This is an unforgettable novel of small-town bigotry, personal growth, and how one can inhibit the other – and it’s the best book I’ve read so far this year.