Friday, December 31, 2021

Books: The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois

I joined a book club this year, and that means reading a lot of stuff that I never would otherwise. Case in point - The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by HonorĂ©e Fanonne Jeffers. It's a novel about several generations of an African-American family from a fictional small town in Georgia. Part Bildungsroman and part historical fiction, the book is miles away from the sci-fi and fantasy I usually read.

As a book club title, Love Songs is perhaps not ideal. It's 800 pages long, with fairly heavy subject matter. I expected the brutal ugliness of slavery and Jim Crow (the book follows a black family in Georgia, after all) but there is also a heaping helping of rape, substance abuse, and pedophilia, with all their associated family trauma. Jeffers's tale strikes a more hopeful tone at the end, but light beach reading, this ain't.

Love Songs is Jeffers's debut novel, but she's an English professor and a longtime poet with several published collections, so the writing is overall pretty good. The book could've used some editing, however. The narrative strikes me as disjointed; the book's best chapter - a 100-page descent into addiction that feels like watching a deep South Requiem for a Dream - could've been cut out entirely without any effect on the larger story.


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