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A literary suspense novel sparked by racial tensions and family history: Fed up with being tied down by twenty-five years of domestic bliss and everyone's expectations, Abbie Palmer is struggling to assert some independence from her husband Craig and find her creative self. When he tells her, "No man is an island," she flings back, "That's exactly what I want to be, an island. I'm sick of being a whole continent." But breaking away from her mainland isn't so easy, what with cops, Molotov cocktails and Hollywood starlets, lost memories - and maybe an unknown half-sister...
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What Came Before was conceived as a comedy with lots of broad humor and exaggerated characters, but as I began to work, I realized I needed to write something I cared about, that there had to be a reason beyond car chases and Twinkies for a piece of work to exist. I rethought the whole thing. Stories--good stories--had to be about something that mattered to me and to others.
In the beginning, Abbie's missing half-sister was white, like Abbie and like me, and I kept coming up with the question, "so what?" "Where's the tension?" I reached into my own life, my own experiences, my own childhood for clues.
I grew up in California, but my mom came from a little town in Louisiana and my dad from Iowa. Since he was a teacher, we used to climb into our old Pontiac as soon as school was out and head east to corn country, then head south to Terrebonne parish. That's where I ran smack dab into Jim Crow laws.
I loved going to the grocery store with my grandpa. He was a sunburned Santa Claus smelling of figs and cigars who liked to load up on rolls and rolls of toilet paper, paper towels, cans of tomato sauce and bottles of soda pop. I liked to ride on the front of the cart while he pushed down the aisles. Then when I was four or five - I don't really remember exactly - I wandered off to get a drink of water.
Two drinking fountains stood against the cluttered back wall of the market. I studied them, wondering which one I wanted. I'd never had a choice before. Not in California.
The left one was labeled "white" and the other labeled "colored."
I chose "colored," of course, because to my mind that meant the water would come out red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. When no rainbow showed up, I was disappointed. I turned on the white one. The two sprays of water were exactly the same. Clear and boring.
I ran back to my grandpa and told him what happened. He explained that one was for white people, the other for black. When I asked why, he just shrugged. I don't remember, but I think it was my father who to me this kind of fear and hatred existed in the world.
I wish I could say I knew instinctively at that young age the whole wrongness of it, but I didn't. It's something I learned as I grew into myself, through reading, through the experiences of the growing up in the fifties and sixties, through knowing people of many races - the different ways human beings exist in a real world. "What Came Before" springs from a desire to show that people are more alike than different, and it is our differences that enrich us.
What Came Before is a remarkable achievement--a smart, fast-paced mystery that asks important questions about identity, family, and race. And, like the best of its genre, it's loaded with puzzles: What really happened on the day Abbie Palmer's mother killed herself? Who is the mysterious woman who shows up on Abbie's doorstep, and why would anyone want her dead? Gay Degani's prose is at all times lucid and compelling, and her exciting story will keep you glued to your chair. ~ Clifford Garstang, What the Zhang Boys Know, winner of the 2013 Library of Virginia Award for Fiction.
This novel is an unraveling narrative of red herrings and second guesses, with twists and turns of plotline that keep you turning the pages. What Came Before is a detective story that is both engaging and enthralling, populated by vivid characters portrayed with a deft and precise prose. -Literary Fiction Book Review
Degani's affable debut, a suspenseful novel about mothers and daughters, aims to be thrilling, socially relevant and heartwarming all at once. --Kirkus Review
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Book Description Every Day Novels, 2014. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M1928193005