Belle Vie is a beautiful, sprawling estate in Louisiana, the ideal place for wedding parties. Oh, and it’s a former sugar cane plantation turned museum theater. As the general manager, Caren Gray works and lives on the property, where her ancestors were slaves. On the land outside the gates a huge corporation exploits cheap workers from Mexico. Tensions mount when one of the workers is found with her throat slit and Caren finds that the murder, the disappearance of a former slave in the past and her own family history are all intertwined.
This was my first of Attica Locke’s works and it is pretty much perfect. Mystery is one of my preferred genres and combine that with the social commentary, it makes my social justice warrior heart swell. And Locke is clearly very talented in that she manages to wrap complex characters, social justice, literary writing style and an exciting mystery all in one book.
The setting of the story, the eerily beautiful antebellum plantation Belle Vie really becomes a character in its own right and Caren’s late-night movements across the estate evoke a haunting atmosphere that was hard to shake after I finished the book. Not being from the US maybe I just don’t get the normalcy of it, but the re-enactments, that’s pretty messed up. I mean I understand the importance of bringing history to life, of refusing denial and forgetting to white people. But the trauma of standing where your ancestors were enslaved and taking on that role? As always, taking on the labor of teaching anti-racism in the hopes of working towards dismantling it. For more anti-racist work about slavery museum theater, let me recommend the webseries Ask A Slave.
I also really appreciate the connection Locke draws between the antebellum slavery economy and current forms of exploitation of labor, such as cheap and often undocumented workers from Mexico. In an interview, Locke states: “I do think that for people of color – and also for women, frankly – that our economic ascent is always complicated by the fact that you’re aware of people who aren’t coming up with you” (NPR). That’s the spirit of solidarity I’m always hoping for in social justice work!
As a thriller by a woman of color writer, reading The Cutting Season counts for both R.I.P. X and Diversiverse. Aarti wrote that reading more diversely does not mean you have to change your book reading habits and I think this work is a great example of that. If you’re a mystery buff like myself, pick up this one!
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