Saturday, March 10, 2012

A hauntingly unforgettable story of tragedy and love

J. Eric Laing’s debut novel, Cicada is a remarkable story of love, hardship, guilt and racial tension in America’s deep south. It is a page-turner from the opening scene all the way to the end. In the opening scene, farmer John Sayre sits in his truck with the barrel of a gun in his mouth. Should he kill himself or shouldn’t he? The scene is so cinematic that I could taste the oil and feel the metal of the gun barrel in my own mouth. One reviewer calls the book a “tense Southern Gothic page-turner”, which it is. Another says it reminded him of William Faulkner, one of the best writers around sixty years ago. It reminds me of Faulkner as well, yet it is far more. It is so real that I could hear the whir of the cicadas and feel the oppressive summer heat.
It is the story of a man who is guilt-ridden over his older brother’s death when they were schoolboys. It is the story of racial conflicts in a changing South, where some of the local Good Old Boys are active in the Klan and lynch a local black man “to teach them folks a lesson.” it is a scene so chilling that I still see and feel it. It is the story of changes in a small Southern town where traditions die hard. It is a story about a man’s love for his young son and his wife, and the affair he has with Cicada, a beautiful young black woman. Cicada will run you through the gamut of emotion, lifting you up and sometimes causing you to burst into tears.  it is the story of heartbreak and, justice and, ultimately, forgiveness told by a master storyteller. 
I see it as a major motion picture, a blockbuster of a movie that will linger. I hope Cicada receives all the attention it so richly deserves. I understand the author has several more novels somewhere in the pipeline. If they’re anywhere close to being as good as this one, we’re seeing the birth of a major American writer.
A definite 5 Star read.  

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