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on February 26, 2004
Eden is far more than a coming of age novel.
The story is told through the voice of Maddy Dangerfield, a fourteen year old girl living in the deep South.
Maddy may be green around the edges but she observes the world through old eyes. The town is in shock when Maddy draws a naked woman on the pages of Genesis, in fire engine red lipstick during Sunday school.
Maddy feels deeply for her Mother. For her hard worked hands and tired feet from cleaning the white folks house all day.Her Father, an alcholic who gambles away every cent he earns plus what her mother makes.
Her Aunt Pip, a beautiful, carefree woman known to sleep with married men (even Maddy's father). When Aunt Pip starts dying from Breast Cancer, Maddy is forced to spend the weekends taking care of her. Maddy is crushed to see her aunt crumble and weaken right before her eyes. Fat, her aunt's friend is crazy they say. She writes letters to a dead man. A dead man they found hanging from the tree in the front yard. He was hanged and uncle Sugar became a number- for raping a white woman.
This novel is raw, sensual and bursting from the seams with old Southern ritual and spirituality. A wildy beautiful tale of passion, anger, love and Death.
Vernon's prose will knock your socks off! Her creativity is so out of the box one might need to take a slow breath to take it all in. Highly unusual, passionately poetic. To write with such profound power and mystic is pure brilliance.
Eden is top shelf with the likes of Toni Morrison.
Vernon is a Diamond in the rough of literature today..
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on June 12, 2003
While reading Eden, I could hear Olympia Vernon's voice through her style, tuning every word like an instrument. I see strength in these characters. It is what they find their strength in that is different; this is a place that haunts them, hurts them or may heal them. Each character needs to find strength just to get by in their life walk. We can spy on them through Maddy; she is in the midst of adolescence, finding her own areas of strength to get by. She is growing up by visualizing and feeling the gut revelations that we all learn from family. Through watching the lives of those around her, Maddy sees that love, strength and truth do not always exist together in the same places. It is such a real to life revelation how family teaches us disappointment. There is also a strong sense of longing throughout Eden. Pip displays this longing. I love her name; it is like a flashback to how she used to be lively and exciting. She was once a free spirited beauty who found her strength in men. This caused her to betray her own sister Faye, and so she must live and die as an outcast from her family. What was once strength in her life cheated her by giving her loneliness. Mama Faye finds her strength in Jesus. This helps her function as a savior to her family. She needs His strength to overcome her husband's ways and heal the past hurt of betrayal. Chevrolet seems to find his strength in avoiding mama's Jesus. He gets messed up in the Jesus of the world, who seems to always be after him. He gambles with Jesus so much that his life is always on the line. Eden is a peek into rural southern living, filled with mystery and anticipation.
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on February 16, 2003
Intricate, excessive metaphors with convoluted symbolism that consumes the reader. Re-reading sentences and paragraphs to comprehend the context, questioning what was read, surreal imagery. No, this is not a Toni Morrison novel but Olympia Vernon in her debut offering, Eden, will no doubt be compared to the Queen Mother of literature. This novel will more than likely be embraced by the literary community making this a crossover fiction read to please many palates.
Maddy Dangerfield is a fourteen year-old black girl living on the borderline of rural Mississippi/Louisiana. Though no dates are given, the time period seems to be the late 1960s or 70s. Maddy is engulfed in despair, a fragile link in a down- trodden family that appears to be without hope or future. A degrading, embittered, alcoholic father, Chevrolet, who is also maimed, is incapable of providing for his family though he is employed because his paycheck is already owed to Jesus� the man who runs gambling in town and to the liquor his body craves. His wife, Faye totally lacking self-esteem, is a classic enabler, working herself to the bone to pay her husband�s debts. They are the town�s object of gossip and pity. There is no laughter; Maddy does not socialize with other children or hitch rides into town with friends for ice cream. She is immersed in an adult world and these adults are no prizes. Then Maddy adds fuel to the flames when she draws a picture of a naked lady in red lipstick over the first page of the Book of Genesis in Sunday School. As a punishment, she is banished to spend weekends nursing her aunt Pip, who is wasting away with breast cancer and herself banished in shame from the town and the family for committing an unforgivable sin. Maddy is drawn into the squandered life of Pip while pondering the issues of life, death, love and redemption.
Racism is rampant and this novel does not escape the stereotypical elements of a gothic southern novel: an uncle in prison and his friend hung for an �alleged� rape of a white woman, the desolate alcoholic stripped of his manhood who kowtows to whites, the white storeowners who cheat blacks out of their money, the strong black mother replete with a Mammy persona who is long-suffering, forever in church praising the Lord. A cast of secondary characters including an outcast neighbor, a young casket maker from New Orleans who has his eye on Maddy and a slow-witted man who meets a mysterious death all contribute to making this a well-rounded, unique storyline.
The literature of the last few years have highlighted the affluence and assimilation of African Americans touting their acquired status, this story gives us the ugliness up front and personal---, this is not reading for the faint at heart. Maddy�s obsession with vaginas is a prominent part of this novel as is blood, breasts, lizards, and superstitions steeped in ignorance and tradition. Sometimes this novel was out there, thus the Morrison reference. Well written with illuminating imagery, the author places you there--but I had to ask myself if I really wanted to be. Nevertheless, it was refreshing to read yet another new, unique voice. 2003 promises to be a stellar year with writers such as Vernon and Danyel Smith (More Like Wrestling) who are taking bold risks in what is sometimes a saturated market of uniformity. I look forward to this author�s next offering.
Dera Williams
APOOO BookClub
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on January 28, 2003
Olympia Vernon has certainly marked her space on the map with Eden. The entire book sings like music. Every line, every chapter is indelible--like an ongoing paean that praises and celebrates life, love, loss, forgiveness, death, God, pain, nature, disease and the awe of body--the physical journeys it takes. I found the language as bare-boned as Hemingway. Quick, clean, sharp and vivid. Even cancer resonates as a "character" in the novel. I was enamored with the simplest "sharing" in the book and that was Maddy. Though a rift eases in between two sisters, Faye and Aunt Pip, the child is still allowed to go to her aunt. Could that in some manner be a gesture of forgiveness? The one and only frail part about the novel is plot. However, the characters, structure, language, magical-realism and overall theme of the work deems it all the more rich. I hope this young author continues to contribute good, qualified, "seriously imaginative" literature to the African-American canon. I think she will keep the map strong. Highly recommended!!
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on February 10, 2003
I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up the debut novel by new author Olympia Vernon. The title suggested to me that I was beginning a story about the concept of Eden, a place where old age ceases, evil is nonexistent, and a place of abundance. Quite the opposite was true.
Maddy Dangerfield, a fourteen-year old with the weight of the world on her shoulders, lives in a place that defies Eden and all of its niceties. Maddy's mother, Faye, sends her to care for her Aunt Pip, Mama Faye's outcast sister. Pip suffers from breast cancer and the loss of her breast. Maddy learns much from Pip, and this stop in her journey to adulthood takes on an important role.
There was a strong theme of missing pieces in the novel, beginning with Maddy's father Chevrolet, who was missing his arm, and ending with Maddy herself, and all of the losses she incurred. The writing spoke to me in hushed voices, Vernon allowing her words and lyricism to come to the forefront. You won't find a largely plot-driven novel in Eden, as the author allows focus to remain on her characters and their losses. A symbolic tale of coming of age and coming to grips, this was a fantastic debut...
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on January 28, 2003
'Eden' is the best novel anyone's written in a long time. Like many good first novels, it sits bravely on top of the thing that is out of whack in the universe, the flaw that must have been there at the Big Bang and expanded outward at the speed of light. But 'Eden' stands the whole mess on its head when it whispers in a young girl's voice, 'I am not afraid.' This novel transmutes the pain of a kid's hard luck family into a prose poetry we haven't heard since the the novels of the 1930s. I kept thinking of Henry Miller. Why? Maybe because young Olympia Vernon is fearless, as was Miller; and maybe because she perfects something almost unheard of in America: an authentic rather than fake Harvard or Yale working class voice. The novel is so perfectly the thing that it is, and so different, that it sent me scurrying to reread 'Tropic of Cancer;' both hum a great symphony right out of the bloodstream and the womb; and both novels shock with blood and sex and yet somehow ineffably distill a wondering light from what a lesser writer would report only as a scary darkness. And both are unforgetable.
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on July 3, 2003
I had the opportunity to meet Olympia personally,
but sleep got the best of me. But my sister and
niece did go at 12:00 a.m. and talked to her one
on one and got my personally autographed copy.
I had the experience to visit Birmingham, AL with
The Church of Christ, which presented the perfect
opportunity to read EDEN. The southern atmosphere
made the book come alive.
I found it fascinating how a young girl eyes were
able to see so much in-depth in each character. I never
though a young girl knew so much. Infact, I didn't
know they cursed so much and spoke with unprofound
I guess prostitutes do have a life,lasting girl friend
relationships and family members who still love
them in spike of. But I have heard they do make
the best wives.
Her description of cancer and it's effect on the
individual and those surrounding them, was quite
I had to put my mind into the 14yr. old and continue
to read. I guess I am so use to reading about adults or
children who grow up into adults and the story line
then takes off into their lives.
I loved the nicknames. Family members will give
you names only the family knows about.
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on February 12, 2003
Being a native of Pike.... Pyke County I'd have to say this book really hit "home". Eden is a wonderful piece of literature. Eden has power between its pages. Powerful would be an understatement when describing this book. While submerged in Eden I experienced a WIDE range of emotions. Humor- when Aunt Pip and Fat sat around "shootin' the breeze" enjoying their feel-goods. Fear- when Chevorlet contemplated shooting the mutt, before Jesus drove up. Sadness- When Willie died/ or was he killed?
Eden is an artwork that should get it's due respect, it's proper accolades, and the author Olmpia Vernon (whom I consider the Zora Neal Hurston of this new millenium) should be given national attention for creating Eden at a time when all of us need it the most!
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on January 8, 2003
I call EDEN a �POWERFUL EXPLOSIVE merely because of its �POWER� to portray the events that may have happened in times past and its many ideas,conflicts,and internal passions many of its characters face. It is spell binding in the fact that it keeps the reader focus as the story takes it different twists and turns.Eden resonates. Eden makes one tap deeply into his or her emotional and spiritual selves. Eden has that power. Having read it, I find myself enlightened to the ideas and conflicts of the Maddy, Faye, Fat, Chevrolet and Pip, as well as my own internal passions, conflicts, and ideas.Eden is not only about good versus evil. It's also about forgiving and forgetting. It's about sadness, loss, the irreversible passage of time, and the nature of humanity.
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on January 1, 2003
Eden is one of those few literary works that consistently holds your attention from the first page to the last page. The imagery conveyed in this novel makes you feel like you are actually experiencing Maddy's evolution, from the stereotypical societal notions of "being a woman" to accepting womanhood and femininity on her own terms. Already wise beyond her years, she evolves from the intelligent child to the enlightened "young woman," who's changed view of the world results in a new found "realism" that causes her to reevaluate the accepted roles of sex, race, and religion in the world of Pyke County. This is an excellent read and I highly recommend it.
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