5.76 Kim McLarin Jump at the Sun: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9780060528492

Jump at the Sun: A Novel

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9780060528492: Jump at the Sun: A Novel

In her previous books, celebrated author Kim McLarin skillfully examined issues of race and love. Jump at the Sun is her stunning third novel in which she addresses the same complicated subjects, as well as gender, class, and motherhood.

Grace Jefferson is an educated and accomplished modern woman, a child of the Civil Rights dream, and she knows it well. But after a series of rattling personal transitions, she finds herself in a new house in a new city and in a new career for which she feels dangerously unsuited: a stay-at-home mom. Caught between the only two models of mothering she has ever known -- a sharecropping grandmother who abandoned her children to save herself and a mother who sacrificed all to save her kids -- Grace struggles to embrace her new role, hoping to find a middle ground. But as the days pass and the pressures mount, Grace begins to catch herself in small acts of abandonment -- speeding up on neighborhood walks, closing doors with the children on one side and her on the other -- that she fears may foretell a future she is powerless to prevent. Or perhaps it's a future she secretly seeks.

Jump at the Sun is a novel about an isolating suburban life and the continuing legacy of slavery, about generational change and the price of living the dream for which our parents fought. Primarily it is a novel about motherhood, and not a sentimental one. As Grace struggles not to damage her children with her own fears and complications, her thoughts stray far from the greeting-card picture often expected of mothers in society today. In her bold and fearless voice McLarin explores both the highs and the lows of being a mother and how breaking the cycle of suffocation and regret is infuriatingly difficult, and absolutely necessary.

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About the Author:

Kim McLarin is respected as "one of the bravest novelists in recent times" (Philadelphia Tribune). She is a former journalist for the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Associated Press, among other news organizations. The author of the critically acclaimed novels Taming It Down and Meeting of the Waters, McLarin is currently writer-in-residence at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts.

From The Washington Post:

Grace Jefferson's grandmother handled parenthood by relinquishing her children. In contrast, Grace's mother gave so much of herself to her children and others that she had little time or energy left over. At the beginning of Jump at the Sun, Kim McLarin's third novel, 35-year-old Grace fears she's inherited her forebears' less-than-admirable traits. On the surface, she appears to "have it all": a patient, devoted and financially successful husband, two adorable daughters and a lovely home in a Boston suburb. Despite acknowledging that she should be appreciative and fulfilled, she feels trapped and finds herself fantasizing an escape. When her children's school is closed unexpectedly due to a snowstorm, she tests the bounds by leaving the girls alone in the house for a few minutes: "I had a vision of myself as Tim Robbins in that movie Shawshank Redemption . . . finally reaching freedom and raising my arms to the cleansing, falling rain."

We meet Grace on New Year's Day, trying to contact a doctor who will prescribe the morning-after pill because, against her better judgment, she and her husband, Eddie, made love the night before only to have the condom break. For Eddie, the idea he may have a shot at a son is glorious. For Grace, however, this is a potential disaster. "There is a moment . . . before knowledge or logic or training kicks in and tells us what to do when pure animal panic is running the show. This was the moment I was in."

Interspersed with the compelling story of Grace's inner struggle are the parallel, less captivating, tales of her mother and grandmother. In 1941, her 15-year-old future grandmother, Royal, known simply as Rae, ran from Mississippi to Memphis with her lover, who promptly deserted her but not without impregnating her first. Taking up with another man, she abandoned her first child, Mattie (Grace's mother). Rae's motto is "I'm just living, that's all." Mattie spends her life and livelihood trying to win back Rae's love and makes a career of self-sacrifice. The mantra she lives by: "Love means next to nothing. Duty is what counts."

McLarin omnisciently narrates the Rae and Mattie sections, which pale next to Grace's intimate, often disturbing, first-person account. It would have been enough to summarize her forbears' history, as Grace occasionally does anyway: "For my grandmother, to be a mother was to also be a slave, and a slave she refused to be . . . . Then my mother had children of her own and, in her woundedness, ended up walking away from herself." The mother/grandmother sections do not have the pulse, pace or rhythm of Grace's present-day story.

And even there, we never really learn why Grace feels as desperate as she does, beyond her legacy. In many ways, her frustrations with motherhood seem to be of the relatively normal, universal ilk (never-ending demands, sibling bickering, inconvenient illnesses, tantrums, etc.). Grace can seem a tad whiney. But McLarin's point is to explode the cliché that mothers naturally feel connected to their children. After all, in our society, we're usually fed only extremes: guerrilla moms or postpartum psychos whose play-date of choice is the deep end of the bathtub. Grace admits to disliking the "family bed" concept because she had to share one with her two sisters growing up. She also muses about why Eddie picked "someone incapable of love" but gives no satisfactory indication as to why she agreed to marry and have children in the first place.

To punctuate these issues, McLarin surrounds Grace with other problematic mothers besides Rae and Mattie. The supporting cast includes women in Grace's department who, before she got pregnant, "held their baby pictures" up to her face "as if warding off a vampire with a crucifix"; her mother-in law ("casually destructive even when she meant to be nice, throwing her spiked arms around you and leaving little wounds all over the place"); and her insecure sister-in-law, who ardently dislikes her own mother. Grace's friend Valerie -- the one woman who appears to be an ideal wife and mother, always equipped with tissues and Band-Aids -- dies suddenly of a stroke so Grace can see children made motherless and convince herself they'll be okay.

Some may see this book as an attack on motherhood or a long complaint about it, while others may question why Grace didn't return to work, hire a babysitter or seek therapy. After all, Grace is a sociologist who briefly dabbled in psychology and scares herself with thoughts such as "To have children is to understand the impulse toward child abuse . . . . You will be surprised at the visceralness of your reactions sometimes. You will be horrified at the way you behave." But most readers will find Grace's desperation heartfelt and her journey absorbing, as told in vigorous, luxuriant prose. Her eventual visit to her grandmother, accompanied by her own mother, is a poignant, heartbreaking scene, and Grace's question still haunts us after the book is closed: "Isn't everything everybody ever does about their mother in some way?"

Reviewed by Patricia Elam
Copyright 2006, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

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