Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Stones Cry Out, by Sibella Giorello (Revell)

(Click cover for more information)
Another first! Although I’ve reviewed multiple works by the same author in the past, this is the first time I’ve reviewed two in a row. Doin’ it now, ‘cuz it’s worth it.

It’s not at all difficult to see why Sibella Giorello’s first novel, The Stones Cry Out, garnered a Christy Award. The subject matter is engaging and borderline controversial, the protagonist’s perspective unique, the ensemble of characters intriguing, and the writing style daring. My goodness, where do you go to follow to that act? (Well, actually, you go here).

Subject matter: Civil rights investigation. During a racially charged demonstration, two people fall to their deaths from the roof of an abandoned factory (incidentally, the focus of the demonstration). One is a white cop, the other a black ex-boxer. The local police are handling the crime scene, but politicos have prompted the FBI to launch a parallel civil-rights investigation. This creates the perfect setting for a conflict triangle. One leg of the triangle is tension between local law enforcement and the Feds, whose respective processes and agendas inevitably collide. The second leg comes from Richmond's Southside community, who have nothing but contempt for both the locals and the Feds. The third is internal conflict within all three of these entities, as individual biases clash and reverberate throughout the story. And they all need each other, if the truth is ever to come to light.

Protagonist’s perspective: Our heroine, Raleigh Harmon, is an FBI agent with a background in forensic geology. She’s been with the Bureau long enough to know her way around, but not long enough to become cynical beyond redemption. Both of those factors become at times assets, at times liabilities. Her boss wants the investigation shelved: “Ask some questions. Pretend we’re interested, then close the case.” Why? Civil-rights cases can’t be solved; they’re lose-lose situations. Hence, pay some lip service and get on with more important things. Well, Raleigh just can’t get her head or her heart around that. (Which is why she’s our heroine).

Ensemble: Ms. Giorello compiles a fascinating and complex character grid, each member of which adding his/her own special weight to Raleigh’s already mind-bending load. The pressing memory of her murdered father compounds the delicate imbalance of her mentally and emotionally needy mother, effectively disquieting what should be the beleaguered agent's quieter moments. These personal pressures vie for position with the bulging tension triangle that demands her quasi-secretive professional attention. She seems to have no relief from any quarter—save her faith.

Oh, and one scene in particular scares you to death. You’ll know when you get there.

Finally, writing style: In my estimation, this was a daring debut for a novelist, in that Ms. Giorello selected a first-person perspective, all present-tense narrative style. The first-person point of view (see specific comments on the style here) is not terribly unusual. The “historical present” tense is rarer—although she’s in really good company with the likes of Charles Dickens (selected passages in David Copperfield) and St. Mark (much of The Gospel According to Mark). She makes it work. Add to this a distinctive and enjoyable writing voice, and you’re in business.

Be prepared to ride the emotional rollercoaster. My wife, Jeannie, on more than one occasion looked at me like I’d lost it when I’d burst out laughing at one of Raleigh’s sardonic one-liners or witty dialog runs. Where do you find room to laugh anywhere in a storyline as heavy as the one I’ve just described? Well, pick up the book and find out for yourself. There's no way you'll ever regret it.


Lynnette said...

My reading list just keeps getting longer and longer. :)

Bruce Judisch said...

Yeah, me, too.

:-) :-)