This is Alice Walker’s first book. It is dark and disturbing, being the story of a Black man in the south during the forties, fifties and sixties. It’s one of those books that is profound and moving, without being particularly entertaining.
Grange’s father is a poor Black man, a sharecropper in rural Georgia. They live in a decrepit shack provided by his employer, and he does a little farming as well to try to feed his family. He is forced little by little into a debt that he can never hope to repay, and as his despair deepens, he begins to take it out on his wife and son. He begins to spend weekends in town drinking and womanizing. Soon, his wife also does the same, gets herself pregnant by some casual sexual encounter and has another baby, which of course, Grange’s father knows is not his. He finally decides to leave his family for good.
He has fallen in lust with a strong woman in town, who runs a brothel and bar. He decides to go North, to NYC, because he has heard all the fantasies about the way for a man to make money there.
Grange’s mother, in a fit of depression on losing her husband, poisons herself and the new baby, and goes into the woods to die.
Grange grows into manhood, gets himself involved as well with his father’s squeeze, and eventually marries one of her daughters who is educated and a school teacher. But he starts the cycle all over again, taking her into the country to live in a shack, where he also succumbs to despair, and begins to abuse the woman he once loved. This goes on for ten years or more, and he eventually, in a drunken fit, shoots her in the face. Two of the children are taken by their maternal grandparents to raise, and the third is taken in by Grange’s father, who has returned and married the brothel operator, bought a farm, and is living a quiet decent life. The grandchild Ruth and Grange’s father become very close.
The rest of the book is about racism and the deep divide between the whites and the blacks. The entire book is a look at how people cope with anger and bitterness and hopelessness.
There is essentially no happy ending as in The Color Purple, and it is a very difficult book to read.