Book 3 in the Jericho series takes us back to the small Virginia town and the lives of Maddie and Syd. Henry’s father is back, meaning Henry is now only a sleepover visitor, despite having his own cow at the farm. Roma Jean is growing up, Michael’s taken up Soul Food, David has political ambitions and Celine is embarrassed to have a boyfriend.
At the same time as all the usual suspects are entertaining us with their shenanigans, the darker undertones of child abuse and homophobia become more blatant. While the historical impact of being gay in small town America has been present in the first two novels, in Goldenrod it becomes real in the here and now; from a young woman’s fear of coming out to the Mayor’s active hate campaign. For the first time in the series we have real and persistent anguish and the emotional pain adds a stark relief to the normal witty repartee.
In Jericho and Aftermath the angst was light, the “will she, wont she” of new love, the realisation of lost years, a parent’s well-intentioned but hurtful deceit, and the heartache of foster child leaving the fold. Minor characters suffer with current loss and depression, but our main cast of friends are only lightly brushed with present traumas. In Goldenrod we meet Dorothy for the first time, a bright, intelligent and loving girl who is terrified of her father and his wrath. From the opening words of the prologue the scene is set for a sub-plot that ends in a dramatic cliff-hanger.. that happily for lovers of Ann McMan (Famous Author) guarantees another book in the series.
Don’t be put off by the mention of angst. If what you loved was the light-hearted banter, the witty dialogue, the literary and erudite play on words, they are all still there in spades. But the emotion has deepened, the fear is very real, and nobody who reads this will be untouched by Dorothy or be able to completely supress the desire to do her father some serious damage.
I don’t know whether this was planned from the start of the series or reflects either a change in the authors writing or the current political climate, but it reminds me of the change in Armistead Maupin’s classic series from light-hearted gay life in the rainbow city in the mid 70’s to the trauma of the AIDs epidemic. Whatever the cause, planned or not, the development is welcome. While the light-hearted and adorable wit of the first two novels was exceptional, a third in the same tone might have been stretch.
McMan’s writing is glorious, her wit and intellect as sharp as ever, her pin-point descriptions are those of a keen observer of the absurdity of human behaviour. If you haven’t read Jericho and Aftermath recently then do so to get back into the dynamic of the family and remember the idiosyncrasies of the wider cast. Then enjoy Goldenrod in all its glory.. and wait with bated breath for the next instalment in the series.
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(publisher review copy received)
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