by: Erika Marks
Penguin Group New York, NY 2011
Little Gale is an island, not in the Gulf of Mexico, but in Maine. The Bergeron sisters are brought there as pre-teens by their mother to escape their abusive father. They are a long way, both by distance and by culture, from the New Orleans where they spent their childhood. Sadly, it’s not far enough.
This is a tale of the ties that hold a small town together. It is about what it means to be a family. It is about choices and consequences. It’s about keeping secrets and sharing traditions.
The racism that exists in the town is not overt, as is typical in the north. The interesting thing is that an insular town like this might treat any newcomer in much the same way, regardless of racial heritage. It is the cultural differences, the food, the easy New Orleans jazz, the Creole Voodoo that make the Bergeron’s stand out among the hard wintered lobstermen.
In the family itself it is the racism that sparks a goodly portion of the abuse. Charles, the father, is a red-headed, freckle faced jazz trumpeter. His oldest daughter is as black as her grandmother. The younger one looks much like Charles. The differences of temperament, acceptance, and expectation between the girls are underscored by color.
The gumbo is good, and it is the analogy at the center of the story. What makes a good gumbo: the carefully crafted dark roux, the holy trinity of vegetables, and the shrimp. The story shifts back and forth in time starting and ending with family secrets. At its heart it is a tale about what makes a family.