Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Book Review: 'The Ada Decades' by Paula Martinac

North Carolina writer Paula Martinac is the author of four published novels, including the Lambda Literary Award-winning "Out of Time," and a collection of short stories. She has also published three nonfiction books on lesbian and gay culture and politics, and numerous articles, essays and short stories. Paula is also a playwright with plays produced with Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company, Manhattan Theatre Source, the Pittsburgh New Works Festival, No Name Players, and others. She teaches creative writing to undergraduates at University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

THE ADA DECADES is written in eleven historical novel-in-stories installments representing the time from frame of 1947 to the present – each story continues the adventure of her main character but is placed in the context of the variations of mood and events in the various decades: the book thus becomes not only a very fine novel but also a keenly observed social history.

In her Introduction Paula shares background data that supplements the facts/fictions of the book: ‘This is a work of fiction, inspired by actual events, people and places. Although Charlotte, North Carolina’s public schools did experience racial strife in 1957 and 1970, Central Charlotte Junior High never existed; Mary Burney is not a historical figure, but an amalgam loosely based on the African-American students who integrated public schools in the South; and Robert Browne is a product of my imagination…There was indeed a lynching of three African-American men in Salisbury, N.C., in 1906, and a postcard of the murdered men appears in the collection of WithoutSanctuary.org. But there are no shadowy children in the photo, and I changed the name of the photography studio on the back of the postcard...To my knowledge there was no raid on a gay cruising area in Charlotte in April 1962: my chapter ‘The Plan’ took its inspiration form many such incidents that occurred all over the United States in this time period etc.’ That sort of honesty places the reader in the author’s debt – so secure is the nidus for the tale that is to follow.

Paula’s summary is sound – ‘A girl from a Carolina mill family isn’t supposed to strive for a career, but Ada Shook graduates from college on a scholarship and lands a plum job as a school librarian. The South rocks with turbulence in the 1950s, and Ada finds herself caught in the ugly fight to integrate the Charlotte, N.C. public schools. At the same time, she makes friends with Cam Lively, a teacher who challenges her to re-examine her narrow upbringing. The two young women fall in love and throw in their lot together, despite their underlying fear of being found out and fired. Over seven decades, Ada is witness to the racism laced through her Southern city; the paradox of religion as both comfort and torment; and the survival networks created by gay people. Eleven interconnected stories cover the sweep of one woman’s personal history as she reaches her own form of Southern womanhood – compassionate, resilient, principled, lesbian.’

Paula’s writing style is both mesmerizing and disturbing in the manner in which her words demand we attend the progress of Ada’s journey. This is a very important book as well as a vastly entertaining read. Grady Harp, March 17
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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