“The Revisioners: A Novel”
by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
REVIEW BY MEREDITH MCKINNIE
“People are so afraid of hauntings but I pray for them. Lord, clear me out so I can be with all that have lived through me. There are the sweet hauntings, the tender ones you yearn for. Just one minute with the great beyond, I beg of him, and now he’s starting to respond.”
This intergenerational novel explores the ties between women, culture, and identity. Told from two perspectives, the story weaves between 1855, when Josephine was a young girl enslaved on the plantation, to 1924, when Jospehine is free and facing the threat of the Ku Klux Klan. Her great-granddaughter Ava’s struggles in 2017 mirror the family history, where race is the root of contention. Each chapter shifts in time, showing the consistent heartbeat of racial strife against America’s evolving historical contexts.
The story opens in New Orleans with Ava and her only son considering moving in with Ava’s white grandmother Martha, a wealthy woman who wants Ava to care for her. Faced with financial insecurity since her divorce, Ava takes the leap, leaving her low-paying job and moving her son to a new school.Ava is forced to confront old demons, namely the generational conflict resulting from her black mother and white father’s union years ago and the existent animosity between Ava’s mother and Martha.
Josephine’s story is woven into Ava’s narrative, unfolding the backdrop of family history that enriches the current plot. When young Josephine’s family decides to flee the bondage of slavery, Jospehine’s whole world is rocked. Knowing only confinement, the promise of freedom threatens the only reality she knows. The novel then leaps sixty years forward, as Josephine, now a widow, has grown accustomed to freedom in a country that still harbors racial resentment. When Josephine befriends her white neighbor Charlotte, racial tensions resurface that threaten the family’s survival.
I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book in the first few chapters. I felt Wilkerson dove so deep into each character, that the point-of-view shifts seemed abrupt. As I kept reading, I became more curious about how these stories would intersect, where and how the connection would evolve. I am so glad I didn’t give up, because the ending is so beautiful and vivid. Wilkerson shows us the fabric of family history, that who we are is directly tied to our ancestry, that the stories we are told affect the people we become. She pays particular attention to female bonds in this novel, that the struggles of black women makes them even more reliant on each other for survival.
“I think about what my mama has said, that there are versions of ourselves, there are versions of ourselves within ourselves.”