The #1 Essence and #1 Blackboard bestseller
In This Bitter Earth, Sugar Lacey is on her way out of Bigelow, Arkansas, where she'd come to break with the past. With her worn leopard-print suitcase and her head held high, she walks past the prying eyes of its small-minded, cruel-hearted townsfolk, praying for the strength to keep going. She doesn't stop until she arrives at her childhood home in Short Junction. Here she learns the truth about her parentage: a terrible tale of unrequited love, of one man's enduring hatred, and of the black magic that has cursed generations of Lacey women. A powerfully realized novel that brings back the unforgettable characters from Sugar, McFadden's bestselling debut, This Bitter Earth is a testament to the ultimate triumph of the human spirit.
In a heartfelt but lackluster sequel to her critically acclaimed debut, Sugar, McFadden follows Sugar as she attempts to heal her physical and emotional wounds. In the winter of 1955, Sugar Lacey leaves her man, the evil Lappy Clayton, in Bigelow, Ark., to return to Short Junction only 10 miles, but a world away. The Lacey sisters, who raised Sugar from birth and employed her in their house of ill repute, welcome her back and answer her questions about her parents. When all three sisters die, Sugar receives her inheritance, and would live comfortably if not for the ghosts of the past that won't leave her in peace. Finally, in 1965, she is drawn to St. Louis to seek out her old friend Mary. Appalled to discover that Mary's home has become a heroin den and her granddaughter a junkie, Sugar bravely and selflessly tries to save the young girl. This ordeal and a subsequent bus trip to Bigelow featuring a harrowing episode of racial intimidation are the best scenes in the novel as McFadden captures the horrors of drug addiction and the zeitgeist of a racist South. Unfortunately, the rest of the novel is too full of Sugar's victimization: suffering the pain of her past, she lacks much of the fiery fighting spirit that made her appealing and sympathetic in the first novel. Agent, James Vines. (Feb.)Forecast: Bookstores should not discount a built-in audience and praise for McFadden's past work from such notables as Toni Morrison and Terry McMillan.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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April 30, 2002
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Excerpt from This Bitter Earth by Bernice L. McFadden
Sugar made her way down the road. The wind pushed at her back, hurrying her along and away from Bigelow and the people that gathered at the door of the church to watch her departure.
The women hugged themselves for warmth and smiled while nodding their heads and clucking their tongues in triumph while the men, including the Reverend Foster, lifted their collars against the gale as they watched Sugar's long legs and hefty bottom fade away into the gloomy night. The men hung their heads; they would miss her and the pleasure she'd given them.
Good pussy gone traveled through their minds as they patted their thighs in tribute.
Sugar walked with her head up and shoulders back as she slowly made her way down the road that had brought her to Bigelow. She moved past Fayline's House of Beauty, which was closed and empty, but the laughter that had been had there at Sugar's expense still echoed in her mind, fusing with the wind, adding to Sugar's sadness.
Sugar rounded a tight bend and the darkness swallowed her. Bigelow's residents cocked their heads and strained their eyes as they tried to penetrate the blackness, but she was gone. Not even the light tap-tap-tap of her heels could be heard.
Satisfied, they returned to their pews and their Bibles as if she had never been there at all.
Once out of their view, Sugar crumpled, her shoulders slumped and her head dipped. The secret she carried with her tore at her heart and filled her eyes with tears.
The secret hollered inside of Sugar's mouth, rattling her teeth, pushing her tongue to curl the words out. Sugar would not speak it, but she did write it.
She'd scrawled it on the corners of napkins and at the bottom of the obit section of the county newspaper. She'd written it on a page in the Sears catalogue, the one displaying hunting knives.
She wrote it in block letters, sometimes in pencil or black ink and once, just once, in red.
She kept those tiny slips of truth, folded into neat squares or crumpled into tiny balls, hiding them away in her coat pocket, because she knew she would be leaving Bigelow and she had to take the secret with her.
Lappy did it.
When she got to the mouth of town and was sure that the eyes of the Bigelow men and women were far enough away, she reached into her pocket and pulled her secret from its depths. They were heavy, those three little words on those tiny bits of paper, heavier than the blows that Lappy Clayton had covered her body with, but not as heavy as the casket that held Jude's body.
Sugar released the papers to the wind and watched as they danced and skipped their way across the cold hard ground. She covered her ears as the words screamed out to her:
Lappy did it. Lappy did it. Lappy did it.
Sugar wouldn't tell, but someone else one day would find one of those pieces of paper and they would.
She moved on, hoping that she would never have to return to Bigelow but knowing that she would. Her life had been tailored that way.
Her departure only guaranteed her return, and every step forward just put her two steps closer to where she had been.