When I think of a good “thriller,” I think of an adventure story that is full of suspense and mystery. Usually, the outcome of the story is a vital piece of the puzzle that makes everything that came before, make sense. It doesn’t necessarily solve all the problems, but it allows us to understand why the story played out the way that it did.
Forty Acres by Dwayne Alexander Smith does contain mystery, intrigue and adventure, but the big picture— the themes within the story— is what will stick with you. So the denouement provides closure, for better or worse. But what is left in my heart to ponder more deeply? Key conversations and ideas that have almost nothing to do with how the story ends.
This book is about slavery. With all its violence, evil and hatred. That should be enough to tell you if you want to read it or not. The House Girl by Tara Conklin has been quite popular recently…Forty Acres is so much more graphic and 180 degrees from the efforts taken by Conklin’s characters.
There are huge ideas taken on in this book. I am sure every reader will attach to something different, but here are three quotes that just make me queasy:
1. “Theres a kind of interference that clouds the black man’s mind. This interference keeps black children from focusing on their studies. This interference turns black teens into drug addicts and killers. This interference keeps black men from being good fathers and providers. This interference keeps a black man behaving like a slave … It is this interference that keeps the black man from walking the earth with pride. There’s no scientific name for it, you wont find it in any medical books, but its as real as depression or bipolar disease or any other psychological disorder. I call it simply black noise.”
This idea is just disgusting. Not to mention infuriating. While I admit that I can never understand what it is to be black, I can certainly understand what it is to be different. And I could never dream of blaming my failures, crimes, or hopelessness on those who didn’t show me the respect I deserved, or even actively harassed me about my disabilities.
2. “Keep in mind,” Oscar said, “ that these so called ‘maniac followers’ are influential, conscious black men. Doctors, businessmen, politicians, even one prominent church leader. These men that you’re so determined to destroy do a lot of good for our people. Ruin them, and countless innocents will suffer as well.” Oscar paused to underscore his next point. “And thats just the beginning. Once you tell the world … just imagine the resentment and distrust. It will be directed not only towards the men involved, but toward the entire black community. You think blacks are discriminated against now? Just wait. What you do here tonight will set race relations back decades.”
This one just scares me deeply. There are two seeds here for me, one is how far and wide corruption can run in society and how complicated it becomes to do anything about it. And two is the idea that a small group of people can be accused of an awful crime and suddenly the entire ethnic group is shunned, attacked, or worse.
3. “I’m Helen, from Far Hills, New Jersey,” the woman said. She tugged forward a boy who [he] judged to be about thirteen. “And this is my son, Aaron. He was born down here.” She thumbed over her shoulder. “Right in that corner over there.”
And this one makes me want to cry. How cruel. To allow a baby to be born in a subterranean hellhole, never to see the light of day, is barbaric.
Unfortunately, all of these examples ring way too close to home in our history. Some recent, some where the intensity has faded from time, but all despicable.
Smith does an honourable yet terrifying job of bringing these ideas and more to light in an engaging, page-turning story. The character development and story are not perfect, but Forty Acres will most definitely have you grappling with your own feelings and beliefs on the subject of slavery and racism.
I received this book through Net Galley for review purposes.