Deborah Lively writes a captivating story with her first novel The God Child.
The book, different from plot-driven tales like those written by Toni Morrison but similar in content, takes readers on a journey. The trip takes place from the south to the north with the story of Murdock (her name is actually Meridian, but she’ll soon go by the other name). She’s a southern girl with a calling, and a history that no one knows.
A girl from Mississippi with the beauty of the south, she wore a white dress that her mama made her from goods plucked out of the garbage can in back of the linen shop from the ‘white side’ of town. The dress was a physical manifestation of her family’s difference. Meridian lived in an unfinished house with a half-holy father and a mother, who wrapped her sorrow up in her enjoyment of pretty fabric. Something was indeed wrong and the townspeople of Jamison loved to talk about Meridian.
“And as a result, [she] did things, said things and saw things,” Lively writes. “So, one by one, they chased her off, ëcause in a town like Jamison, Mississippi, she was simply too hard to explain.'”
Meridian will soon find herself going up north. It was really an unknown spirituality and an unexplained death that sent her away on a late night to the south side of Chicago.
Meridian became synonymous with murder in her hometown after her cousin, a boy whom she was seeing by the pond, died. Lively dances in and out of explanation, barely telling of how Jacob came to die, and only revealing that residents in Jamison believed Murdock was responsible for his death. Amidst unresolved stories of death or suicide, rape and pregnancy, Meridian, now known as Murdock, is sent from home before her presence can cause further drama.
Northerners welcomed Murdock as little as her fellow townsfolk had. It is by the third chapter when we learn that she was sent away to Chicago to live with her auntie and her uncle Gad. Each layer of Murdock’s daily existence is wrapped up in a model of other characters’ lives. The reader will find him or herself enveloped in trying to find out what has happened with Murdock through others.
Chapter after chapter introduces a new character who is modeled and then intertwined into the lives of one another in the little neighborhood in the 75th and Hermitage on the south side. The story builds with ease as Murdock develops connections with residents of her neighborhood, including an odd bond with Denise, an easy girl whom neighbors feel is stupid. The children, quick to pick on a child like Denise, treat her poorly. They make fun of her, calling her stupid at will. The boys attempt to grow in sexual experience by coping feels and trying to engage Denise in “fun” activities.
Murdock’s relationship with Denise is one of easy friendship, but the same insight that scared others in Jamison and makes her see the dead ghost of her cousin/lover, Jacob, also warns her that Denise is in danger. Unwilling to face the premonitions that make her different from others, Murdock becomes part of a rape drama though not a participant.
The God Child easily links the dark recesses of southern life with the heady lifestyle of big city living by showing that people and situations do not change from one locale to the next. Lively links her characters through sound, third-person narration of their life events. She does so in a pattern of modeling that helps build suspense, as well as moves the story along to its inevitable climax and odd conclusion.
The book may leave readers unsatisfied but certainly in expectation that this story may continue.
Angelic Jones is a freelance writer and can be reached as Ajoneswrites4u@excite.com