My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Angela Jackson-Brown‘s novel Drinking from a Bitter Cup is a haunting, desolate story of a young child abandoned in the world. At every page, I wanted to stop reading. But her prose was so effortlessly elegant that I couldn’t. (My wife read the book in one sitting as well.)
The story follows Sylvia Butler, a young African-American child who is being raised by her mother. Her mom has mental health issues, which causes her daughter to be ostracized socially. When the mother passes away, her father — whom she has never known — comes to take her from Louisville to his home in Alabama. Her father dotes on her, thrilled to find out he has a daughter.
For a moment, all seems okay. However, her step-mother is none too happy about the long-over affair that has now come to light, and something seems off about her step-uncle who is just back from the war. Ultimately, tragedy strikes again. Alone and thousands of miles from the only real home she ever knew, she is forced to face the harsh realities of a broken home.
What made the story more powerful was knowing it was a fictionalized version of Jackson-Brown’s life, which we discussed on The Downtown Writers Jam Podcast. The horrors in the book were more visceral because there was no way to shake off the fact that the essence of the story sprang from that well of truth. Even as that heaviness floated down and around me, the lyrical prose swept me from page to page and never allowed me time to wallow in the vast emptiness.
Generally I try to temper my reviews, but in this case the book was so flawless that it would be insulting to say otherwise. This is a good, hard, beautiful book.