Diane McKinney-Whetstone's lyrical first novel, "Tumbling," vividly captures a tightly knit African-American neighborhood in South Philadelphia during the forties and fifties. Its central characters, Herbie and Noon, are a loving but unconventional couple whose marriage remains unconsummated for many years as Noon struggles to repossess her ...
Diane McKinney-Whetstone's lyrical first novel, "Tumbling," vividly captures a tightly knit African-American neighborhood in South Philadelphia during the forties and fifties. Its central characters, Herbie and Noon, are a loving but unconventional couple whose marriage remains unconsummated for many years as Noon struggles to repossess her sexuality after a brutal attack in her past. While she seeks salvation in the church, Herbie gains sexual gratification in the arms of a bewitching jazz singer named Ethel, a woman who profoundly affects both Noon's and Herbie's lives when she leaves with them, first, a baby girl and then later, a five-year-old named Liz. When a road planned by the city council threatens to break up this South Philadelphia neighborhood, the community must band together. Unexpectedly, Noon rises up and takes the lead in the opposition, fighting for all she's worth to keep her family and community together. "Tumbling" is a beautiftilly rendered, poignant story about the ties that bind us and the secrets that keep us apart. With striking lyricism, Diane McKinney-Whetstone keenly guides us through the world of community, family, and the human heart.
Publishers Weekly, 1996-04-08 Sunday morning in South Philly, according to McKinney-Whetstone, is "like buttermilk," with "a quiet smoothness to it." The same can be said of this remarkable first novel. A gentle portrait of an African American community in South Philadelphia in the 1940s and '50s, the story probes beneath its residents' lives to tell a powerful tale of damage and healing. Noon is a Florida preacher's daughter too scarred from a secret childhood incident to let a man touch her; her husband, Herbie, is a redcap who met her when he was a hepcat jazz drummer touring with fiery singer Ethel. When newborn Fannie and, five years later, Ethel's five-year-old orphan niece, Liz, are abandoned on Noon and Herbie's doorstep, the embrace of community allows the creation of a family. Many women struggle in private against pain-especially Liz, who hides in the closet and eats plaster to deal with what she knows about Herbie and Ethel. Fannie's prescient visions and her wish to stave off the inevitable underscore an ambivalent view of the power of change. As the threat looms of a highway to be built through the church-centered neighborhood, individual characters find their fates, and the delicately passionate narrative coalesces around a soul-galvanizing metaphor of bricks and mortar and spirit. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club selection. Author tour. (May)
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