The Cutting Season, Attica Locke

Oh wonderful Attica Locke! If only I had read The Cutting Season after Difficult Men rather than before! Attica Locke would have been a wonderful antidote to the maddening failure of representation.

The protagonist of The Cutting Season (affiliate links: Amazon, B&N, Book Depository), Caren Gray, has come back to work and live at the Louisiana plantation where her mother was a cook and her multi-great grandparents were slaves. She manages all of the plantation operations, from tours (complete with a rose-colored play about antebellum life at Belle Vie) to events — Belle Vie is a popular location for weddings and benefits. When an undocumented worker is found on the grounds of Belle Vie with her throat cut, Caren and her nine-year-old daughter are drawn deeper and deeper into the police investigation and the dark past of the plantation where they make their home.

Locke’s evocation of the nausea and nostalgia of old southern plantation homes could not be better. Though the Belle Vie job provided Caren and her daughter a lifeline when they needed one the most, that doesn’t prevent Caren from casting a cynical eye on the way the plantation tours frame the house and its history. She runs the house as its (white) owners want her to, but she won’t go near the slave quarters, which remind her all too vividly of Belle Vie’s violent and traumatic past. She’s as wearily unimpressed by her newest employee’s rhetoric about seeking racial truth as she is by the resident scholar’s impassioned claims about the plantation’s historical importance.

As in Black Water Rising, there’s a degree to which the characters’ mistrust of the police is the sole cause of all their problems, and it would have been easy to feel like, Ugh, but just, if you had just, it’s not like they were going to think your nine-year-old killed someone! Attica Locke smartly subverts this by letting the police focus attention on the immediate, obvious suspect: a young black employee of Caren’s, who has been acting suspicious but not, you know, murder suspicious. It’s another reminder of the unsafeties that attend being black, and it cements Caren’s determination to protect her daughter and herself.

Attica Locke is great and should write more books. The end.