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Take One Candle Light a Room, by Susan Straight.

April 21, 2012

Take One Candle Light a Room: A Novel, by Susan Straight. Anchor (2012), Paperback, 336 pages.

An insightful novel, steeped in racial tension and family ties.

Fantine is a travel writer, publishing in elite magazines.  She “floats” in artistic circles, her race unclear to those who admire her.  Her “tribe,” however, is a cluster of black families living outside Los Angeles who had left Louisiana to protect their daughters from a persistent rapist.  Although Fantine has distanced herself from her family and childhood friends, ties remain.  When Victor, the son of her dead best friend and her own godson, gets involved in a crisis, Fantine needs to find him and draw him away from the buddies who are pulling him into crime.  Fantine’s affinity for Victor who shares her love of playing with words and her guilt at not having given him the attention he needs drive her to find him.  The search for Victor also becomes an exploration of roots which take her back to the places and characters of the author’s A Million Nightingales.

I read Take One Candle because I had been so impressed with Straight’s A Million Nightingales. I was not disappointed.  Straight is a fine writer, sensitive to language, characters, and situations.  This time she uses less stream-of-consciousness writing and at first the mood seems different.  The suspense is higher. As before, she weaves in French words, as well as adding the street talk of the black youths.

Straight married to a black man, has black daughters, and is part of a biracial community. Her treatment of race is never starkly polarized but nuanced and rich with shadings of color and identity. She brings a unique and valuable perspective to her readers.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone wanting an enjoyable and perceptive reading experience

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