Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Road to Memphis

Ladies and gentlemen, this is what shall be known as a "mixed review."

I finished the final book in Mildred Taylor's Logan family trilogy, The Road to Memphis this morning.

I'll start with the negatives, because I want to end on a high note.

Although the previous books in the series handled a multitude of issues and storylines, I never felt that Mildred Taylor included too many situations/characters/issues. I felt differently while reading The Road to Memphis. I was definitely disappointed in the characterization of Cassie. Although the previous books involved situations that didn't directly involve Cassie, there was never any doubt that she was the main thrust of the story.

I guess it's always problematic when a series follows a character from preadolescence to young adulthood. I guess I just wasn't as interested in Cassie's love life (such as it is, being a young country girl reaching "courting age" on the eve of World War II) as I was in her earlier years. I also felt like issues could have been explored further; instead, they were dropped in favor of other storylines. African Americans' involvement in the military and the prospect of World War II, for example. Instead, Cassie has a romantic storyline, and a character is needlessly, in my opinion, killed off. While I stayed up much later than normal in order to read more chapters in the previous books, I had no trouble setting aside The Road to Memphis.

Until the storyline exploring the Logans' relationship with Jeremy hits its climax.

Readers of the previous books know that Jeremy is a white neighbor and the older Logan children's contemporary. Jeremy seeks out the Logans, particularly Stacey (one of the boys), for playtime and friendship. Their father repeatedly cautions them about Jeremy. Once he is no longer a child, he'll end their friendship. He won't see them as friends, and will see them as being beneath him. It's best to keep contact and involvement with their white neighbors to a minimum, to avoid trouble.

In a heartbreaking scene, Jeremy betrays his friends, to his chagrin and shame. It isn't until close to the conclusion of the novel that Jeremy makes amends, which leads to fateful consequences with his violently racist father.

The denouement is painful yet ultimately inevitable. While reading the previous books, I always had an unanswered question about Jeremy. Why did he seek out the Logans when other white children in the community didn't even think about playing with their black neighbors? When I realized that Jeremy was going to play a bigger role in The Road to Memphis than he did in the previous novels, I hoped that Taylor would include his backstory.

I had forgotten that the book was told through Cassie's eyes. Cassie didn't know why Jeremy behaved the way he did (and even says so), so we don't get a clear idea about Jeremy.

While I feel The Road to Memphis is the weakest novel in the trilogy (and I hesitate to say weakly, for there are scenes of acute humor and sorrow that are skillfully written), those who have followed the Logans' journey will definitely want to read the final chapter in their story.

I plan to read The Land, which is the prequel to Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and Song of the Trees, which actually precedes Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.

From what I understand, a sequel to The Road to Memphis is in the works. I hope this is still true.

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