The perspective shifts among a medium-sized cast of characters, much like a camera might pan across a scene. Although the effect could be jumpy and awkward in a less skilled writer's hands, the transitions feel remarkably seamless here.
Over the next decade or so, as she adjusts to her new circumstances, she cares for Duncan's chickens and keeps his house tidy while becoming part of his extended family: his sister Hattie, her German-born husband, their son, his handsome cousin, and the local spirit woman. Taught to read and write, Dossie grows into young adulthood hoping Duncan, whom she idolizes, will come to see her as a woman worthy of his attention.
In this era of racial strife and intolerance, however, whites and white-only locales pose a grave danger to the safety of Russell’s Knob. As the plot moves forward and occasionally back in time, Clarke reveals several jaw-dropping back stories for Smoot family members. And when the realities of being a black woman in a white-centered world hit Dossie in a very personal way, she's forced out of Russell's Knob and into New York's notorious Five Points district to save herself and her loved ones.
Rather than drawing readers carefully into her story at the beginning, Clarke drops them headlong into her characters’ thoughts and actions. I found it hard to situate myself at first, entranced by the rich setting and folksy dialect but unsure of exactly what was happening and what everyone's role was. Everything coalesced several chapters in, though, and I came to appreciate her nuanced characters. Each of them has faults, sometimes major ones, but also many redeeming qualities.
Dossie is an impressionable and sensual young woman who doesn't understand her power initially, or the effect her beauty has on other people. Her circumstances force her into emotional maturity by the end, and as a coming-of-age tale, the novel is effective and satisfying. More than that, though, Angels Make Their Hope Here is an empowering story about community, self-realization, and freedom of choice, something every person deserves.
The novel was published by Little, Brown on July 8th in hardcover ($26.00/C$29.00, 275pp). Thanks to the publisher for providing me with an ARC.