The Washington Post
Jump at the Sunby Kim McLarin
After a series of stressful personal transitions, Grace Jefferson finds herself in a new house in a new city and in a new career for which she feels dangerously unsuited: a stay-at-home mom. An educated and accomplished modern woman, a child of the Civil Rights dream, she is caught between the only two models of mothering she has ever known—a sharecropping
After a series of stressful personal transitions, Grace Jefferson finds herself in a new house in a new city and in a new career for which she feels dangerously unsuited: a stay-at-home mom. An educated and accomplished modern woman, a child of the Civil Rights dream, she is caught between the only two models of mothering she has ever known—a sharecropping grandmother who abandoned her children to save herself and a mother who sacrificed all to save her kids—as she struggles to find a middle ground. But as the days pass and the pressures mount, Grace begins to catch herself in small acts of abandonment that she fears may foretell a future she is powerless to prevent . . . or perhaps secretly seeks.
Jump at the Sun is a novel about an isolating suburban life and the continuing legacy of slavery, about generational change and the price of living the dream for which our parents fought. In her bold and fearless voice, Kim McLarin explores both the highs and lows of being a mother, and how breaking the cycle of suffocation and regret, while infuriatingly difficult, is absolutely necessary.
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Jump at the SunA Novel
By Kim McLarin
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Kim McLarin
All right reserved.
My mother says: Be careful what you do on New Year's Day.
Be careful because you'll find yourself repeating those actions for the rest of the year. New Year's Day is a template, a groove worn in twenty-four short hours, and thereafter impossible to escape. If you wake to find yourself licking the bathroom tiles, look forward to a year of drunkenness. If you're in the kitchen until dinnertime, whipping up a feast for the gathering hordes, prepare for twelve months of domestic servitude. If you are praying, that's good, and if you are in the hospital, that's unfortunate, and if you're traveling, you might as well go on and keep those bags packed. Or so my mother says.
My mother, Mattie Jefferson, is sixtyish, Southern and black, a child of old Jim Crow, and this was only one of a vat full of superstitions in which she was steeped as a girl. I, on the other hand, am a modern woman, a rational, highly educated Brown Baby, the fulfillment of so many, many dreams. I have tossed off the weight of superstition, I chose logic and rationality. I do not believe. I do not believe eating collards on New Year's Day will fatten my wallet or that consuming black-eyed peas ensures good luck. I do not believe if thefirst person through my doorway that primary morning is a woman, misfortune will surely follow yapping on her heels. (Let's pause a moment to acknowledge the misogynist riptide swirling under that particular belief. My mother used to keep us locked down on New Year's morning until our neighbor Mr. Bones -- red-eyed and stinking from the night's festivities -- could stagger down the street to our house and free us with the gift of his testosterone.)
I believe none of it, and still I soak the peas and wash the greens and even let my husband step out to the front walk for the newspaper if he is up and about. I tell Eddie the reason is not superstition but tradition: a harmless bit of Southern black cultural heritage to pass on to the kids, one of the few gifts my grandmother gave to me. I tell him we are a disconnected people, severed from our rich African legacy, reaping still the whirlwind of all that fracturing and rootlessness. I tell him human beings need ritual to frame and navigate the chaos of life, and that our children especially and Our Children particularly must be given these touchstones in order to survive. I remind him I am a sociologist and thus trained to see these things. But Eddie is not stupid; he knows there is more to it than that. And so do I, though what the more is I could not precisely say.
All of which is to say when I found myself trapped in the basement on New Year's Day, I might have known trouble was coming. I might have known chaos would rule the year.
Also because I feared I might be pregnant again. And while this should have been good news -- was the best of all possible good news to my husband -- and while I wanted it to be good news to my own scarred heart, it wasn't.
Also because I woke that morning thinking, I could leave them. Grandmother did.
Which scared the piss out of me.
And so, the basement. It began when Eddie and the children went off to brunch at his mother's house, leaving me alone.
"Sure you don't want to come?" he asked as he bundled Paula into her coat. He was asking not because he desperately desired my company but because he disliked taking the children out into the world unassisted. And also because he knew his mother would be disappointed and Eddie hated to disappoint his mother. She would take my absence as a slight; I'd have to grovel for days or weeks to regain a place on her slightly more pleasant side. Still, I begged off. "Tell your mother I'm sick," I said. "Tell her I'm not feeling well."
"She won't believe it," said Eddie.
"Then tell her I'm prostrate with menstrual cramps."
He made a face. "I don't think I can say that to her."
Eddie's mother was what my mother would call -- had called, at our wedding in fact -- high siddity -- a Vineyard-summering, hyperarticulating, card-carrying member of the Boston black bourgeois. Her maiden name was Harrison and she liked to affect that her family had come down directly from the president, though how, precisely, such a thing might have happened she did not like to say. Her husband's name was Monroe and she had aspirations about that, too, but none that she could prove. The first time we met she asked who my people were and where we hailed from, and when I told her she gave her son a look of such raw, withering disappointment I wanted to drag myself out behind the barn and put me down. When we told her I was keeping my own last name of Jefferson, she smiled and said, "That's probably just as well, dear."
I knew Eddie would rather burn his lips with a hot poker than say the word menstrual to this woman. And she would rather that he did.
But that was their problem. I had my own, potentially, and I wanted everyone out of the house so I could sit in peace with it and figure out what to do. "Then just tell her I'm having a nervous breakdown," I said. "That'll make her day."
Eddie was struggling to stuff Paula's hand into her mitten, but he paused long enough to search my face. "Is this about last night? You're not still worried, are you?"
"I'm fine," I lied. "You guys go and have a good time." Because even in marriage, there comes a time when it is every person for herself.
Excerpted from Jump at the Sun by Kim McLarin Copyright © 2006 by Kim McLarin. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Kim McLarin is respected as "one of the bravest novelists in recent times" (Philadelphia Tribune). She is a former journalist for the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Associated Press, among other news organizations. The author of the critically acclaimed novels Taming It Down and Meeting of the Waters, McLarin is currently writer-in-residence at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts.
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