the next writer in the series: october 1, 2017

I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.

On the first of each month,
a guest writer
shares
how he or she spends the day.

October 1, 2017: Sophfronia Scott

It’s 1940’s Harlem–the time of Jackie Robinson and Ella Fitzgerald and clubs, like the Swan and the Diamond. And for these characters, it’s also a world of money and revenge. Sophfronia Scott’s Unforgivable Love delivers a story as big as its title and characters you won’t forget.

At twenty, Mae Malveaux doubts she’ll ever be her own woman.

Mae closed her eyes and frowned. She couldn’t remember how to relax. Everything Mae learned about her body made her straight and hard like an ironing board. Her mother never allowed any part of Mae, her hips in particular, to veer off center. She learned to walk with books on her head and her mother’s hand on her spine. The icy touch held her taut and upright.

But at thirty-three, Mae lives in the largest brownstone on Sugar Hill, employs more than one maid, and dresses in long satin Diors. With a regular table at the Swan, a usual drink, and her own special song, she’s a woman who knows what she wants and goes after it. And yet,

Mae wanted more. She wanted Frank’s humiliation, to have him walk through Harlem with laughter trailing in his wake. She wanted his hypocrisy exposed, his name thoroughly ridiculed. That might be enough for her. By the time she heard the first strains of the Duke Ellington tune and Frank Washington came to claim her, Mae had made her plans.

Mae’s male equal is Valiant Jackson–Val for short.

The finely tailored piece framed his physique, squaring off his broad shoulders and tapering down to his narrow waist. He approached the full-length mirror and stared. Sometimes Val pitied the world when he looked this good. He knew once he went out that door he could have anything he wanted and any difficulty could be resolved with a ten-dollar bill. At thirty-five years old, he walked over Harlem like he walked on a fine Oriental rug.

The windows of Val’s bedroom in his top-floor apartment faced full east, as they did every place he ever lived. He didn’t want it any other way. And he never let Sebastian or any other servant close the curtains. He always let the sun come through and, on some summer mornings, practically burn him out of bed.

Then there’s upstanding Elizabeth.

She wasn’t sure if what Kyle was talking about were the words usually reserved for courtship, but she liked what he said. He had a vision for them as a couple, as a family. That was good enough for her. It gave her a place to be in the world, as though he had marked a spot on the map and said, This is where you belong. And she accepted it, grateful to be protected and loved in a place where, as she saw each time she read her father’s newspaper, there were so many, women especially, who went unprotected and unloved.

And finally, young Cecily.

The room where Cecily would sleep looked out over the backyard. By the time she had changed into her nightgown and stood by the window it was too dark for her to see anything out there. She twisted her fingers in the fabric of the light green curtains. Cecily didn’t like the dark and this dark outside her window was beyond what she thought possible. It was black like the darkness of a hole that wasn’t satisfied with just being a hole so it had to suck you in and make you part of the darkness. She was glad of the glass between her and that blackness but still she put her other hand on the window just to see. Would she feel it pulling her out?

As you can see, these characters create worlds around them, and Sophfronia shines the camera on each one at just the right moment, each change in point of view pushing the action forward. Unforgivable Love is the best kind of book–big and thick. It’s a book you want to settle into for the evening. You may even, as I did, find yourself playing a little Sarah Vaughan…

I first met Sophfronia online. Over the years, she’s been a frequent commenter here. In 2011, it was such fun to meet her in person as she was beginning her MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts. These days, I’m always happy to run into her in the halls of AWP. And at the moment, you can find her in the October 2, 2017 (Prince William cover) issue of People Magazine AND in an interview on NPR’s Sunday Weekend Edition.

Sophfronia’s first novel, All I Need to Get By, was published in 2004 by St. Martin’s Griffin. Unbelievably, Unforgivable Love (out tomorrow from William Morrow and already into its second printing) is only the first of three books she will publish in the next six-months. This Child of Faith, co-authored with her son Tain, will be published in December by Paraclete Press. And Love’s Long Line, a collection of essays, will be published in February by Mad Creek Books.

A novel of manners, as well as a retelling of the epistolary novel Dangerous Liaisons, Unforgivable Love is, according to Kirkus,”[a] dazzlingly dark and engaging tale full of heartbreak, treachery, and surprise.” Don’t miss it.

Come back on OCTOBER 1st to read how SOPHFRONIA SCOTT spends her days.

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