Jam On the Vine

Jam On the Vine by LaShonda Katrice Barnett 

publication date: 2015
pages: 323
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2334-3

Much like Artemis Fowl, Jam On the Vine started out ex-ceed-ing-ly slow. Unlike Artemis FowlJam On the Vine picked up as the story went on. It took me almost two weeks to read the first half and about two days to read the second half.

Jam On the Vine followed Ivoe Williams and her family as they moved from the sharecropping South to Jim Crow Austin, Texas and Kansas City, Missouri during the late 1800s and early 1900s. During all this the Williams family endured several racial injustices, including sexual and physical harassment, false imprisonment, and torture.

I wanted to like this book, because I had heard good things about Barnett’s writing and because this subject matter needs more narratives, but I simply did not enjoy it. There were certainly bright spots wherein Barnett captured the human experience, such as this passage from Lemon, the matriarch of the Williams clan, as she discussed her children:

You love your children more than they can ever know. I mean, they can’t never best you in the loving department. But they sure can make you proud.

I liked another similar passage equally as well, as Lemon discussed her stagnant and unemployed son Timbo:

He ought to know sooner or later you got to pay with something – your mind, your heart, your sweat. Something.

Although the book had a few stirring passages, for the most part it was confusing and naggingly unrealistic. For example, this is how the author told us that Ennis Williams had injured is arm:

Truth like that stared you down. More than hurt you, it numbed you – even to a hungry flame. Ennis cussed and stumbled backward to the slack tub, his right arm bubbling with blisters.

After a few re-readings of those lines and several pages later, I finally figured out that what Barnett was trying to convey in those lines was that Ennis was a blacksmith who burned his arm because he was distracted by feeling unable to provide for his children. Barnett revealed another important plot point in a similarly roundabout way. Here was how we found out that one of the character’s children might not actually be his:

Life ought to feel heavy when secrets piled up so high not even a crack of light could get through. Made a soul dark is what it did – all the untelling.

After seeing these passages in isolation, they don’t seem so bad – beautiful even. But reading several chapters with sentence after sentence like this was confusing and overblown.

Additionally, as mentioned above, parts of the book were simply not realistic. Some of the characters’ actions made no sense. And there were little things that would take me out of the story. I wish I liked this book more than I did, but I just can’t give it more than:

3/6: more good than bad

Other reviews of the book:

Chicago Tribune
Kansas City Star
Lambda Literary

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