Black Water Rising by Attica Locke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
From the October 2012 library book sale:
This was an exciting find because I’ve read so much about it in the litblogosphere. Attica Locke is a screenwriter and this was her first novel. Her second came out this year.
Black Water Rising is set in Houston in 1981. Locke does a great job capturing the mood/atmosphere of the city, the tensions (race/class/money/power) between various groups. The descriptions of the setting were very sensory. It’s August and it’s hot and I could practically feel the sweat dripping. I felt like was there.
Jay Porter is a lawyer who’s barely scraping by, hoping for a case that will bring in enough money to keep his law practice afloat. Jay is weary, old beyond his years. (He’s 30.)
He left home when he was 15 to get away from his stepfather, dropping out of school in the process, but later qualified to enter the University of Houston by writing an entrance exam. While he was an undergrad, he got involved with the civil rights movement. He ends up being arrested. His case goes to trial, but he’s found not guilty. After that he went to law school. Now he’s married to Bernie, who’s pregnant. She’s 24, but she’s a young 24, so it feels like there’s more of an age gap between them than there actually is.
At the opening of the story, Jay’s taken Bernie on a night “cruise” (on a old, rickety boat) for her birthday present. They hear screams and then they see someone in the water. Jay jumps in and pulls the person, who turns out to be a white woman, into the boat. They drop her off at the police station, but don’t ask any questions. Jay hopes that’s the end of it. But that would make for a short novel, so of course it’s not.
There are a lot of subplots (a complaint I’ve read in some reviews), but everything ties together in the end, and I think the backstory is integral to Jay’s character and hence the plot. I don’t know if she has any intention of writing a sequel, but I’d read more about these characters.