Book Review: The Morning and the Evening
Posted January 18, 2015on:
The Morning and the Evening by Joan Williams, 1961, re-published 2014 as e-book by Open Road Media, 214 pp.
From time to time, I receive requests from authors and publishers to read and review their books. Almost always, the books are nothing of interest to me–self-published novels or works of Christian writers whose theology is likely far different than my own. I decline politely, because I just don’t have time or energy to read books I don’t want to read, and I know that the author or publisher is not likely interested in an unfavorable review anyway.
This book by Joan Williams was an exception, and I’m so glad the folks at Open Road Media reached out to me. The Morning and the Evening was originally published in 1961, when it was among the finalists for a National Book Award. Williams was an inspiring young author who was deeply influenced by William Faulkner, with whom she carried on a lengthy affair. I love Faulkner, and regularly use the National Book Award nominees as a means to find quality fiction, so I decided to give this a try. It was a huge gift.
The Morning and the Evening is the story of Jake Darby and the people of Marigold, Mississippi. Jake is a 40-year old mute whose lives a simple life with his mother. Because he cannot communicate, it’s unclear to those around him just how much Jake comprehends about his world, if anything. Williams allows us to glimpse inside Jake’s world from his perspective, where we see the world through his simple eyes–what he sees, senses, observes, which is limited to only one thing at a time.
The book is as much about the people of Marigold as it is about Jake, and especially their relationship with him. We watch as some people treat Jake with kindness, others with cruelty, others with indifference or annoyance. Some even fear him. When Jake’s mother dies, the townspeople must figure out what will become of Jake. Williams invites us into their lives too, their sins and hopes and sorrows. Each one is crafted with care and depth, no stereotypes or archetypes anywhere to be found. Williams writes stories of ordinary women that no one notices, and each one is unique. Her African-American characters don’t quite avoid stereotypes and rise to the same level of sophistication, but they are not flat either.
I loved this book from beginning to end. The characters were likable and relatable, and the plot unfolded in a compelling way with the tension about what would happen to Jake. I cried when it ended, and I wanted to stay in Marigold and hear more from these characters I had met along the way.
Williams’ writing is exquisite. I saw the Faulkner connection through the character of Jake, reminiscent of Vardaman Bundren in As I Lay Dying or Benjamin Compson in The Sound and the Fury, and in the small-town Mississippi cast of characters. I was also reminded of Olive Kittredge by Elizabeth Strout, with the way that the various character’s stories all interacted with Jake’s. However, Joan Williams has her own voice and style that is simple and beautiful.
I am grateful that Open Road Media has made this book and the rest of Joan Williams’ collection available again via e-book. I have another Williams book they sent me to review, and I can’t wait to get to it. You should head over to Amazon and add it to your e-reader now.