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Perfect Peace: A Novel

Perfect Peace: A Novel

4.5 326
by Daniel Black

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The heartbreaking portrait of a large, rural southern family’s attempt to grapple with their mother’s desperate decision to make her newborn son into the daughter she will never have

When the seventh child of the Peace family, named Perfect, turns eight, her mother Emma Jean tells her bewildered daughter, “You was born a boy. I


The heartbreaking portrait of a large, rural southern family’s attempt to grapple with their mother’s desperate decision to make her newborn son into the daughter she will never have

When the seventh child of the Peace family, named Perfect, turns eight, her mother Emma Jean tells her bewildered daughter, “You was born a boy. I made you a girl. But that ain’t what you was supposed to be. So, from now on, you gon’ be a boy. It’ll be a little strange at first, but you’ll get used to it, and this’ll be over after while.” From this point forward, his life becomes a bizarre kaleidoscope of events. Meanwhile, the Peace family is forced to question everything they thought they knew about gender, sexuality, unconditional love, and fulfillment.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Black (The Sacred Place) explores the fateful decision of Emma Jean Peace to raise her seventh son, Perfect, as the daughter she has always wanted. Her plan, nutty as it is, works out until Perfect is eight years old and his blind older brother, Bartimaeus, makes an innocent discovery about his sister's body. Soon after, Perfect's friends begin talk of womanhood, prompting Emma Jean to reveal to Perfect the truth. So begins an education for Perfect—rechristened Paul—on manhood while his small Arkansas town casts an unforgiving eye on its newest curiosity. While the rural South backdrop is overly familiar and the dialogue is painfully hoary (“What chu talkin' 'bout, Emma Jean?”), Black manages a nuanced exploration of sexual identity and social structures without elevating his characters to angels or martyrs. (Mar.)
Library Journal
In his third novel, Black revisits the small Arkansas town of Swamp Creek, also the setting of They Tell Me of a Home. This is the heartbreaking tale of Perfect, the seventh child born to Gustavus and Emma-Jean Peace in 1941. What should be a joyous occasion is clouded by Gus's conflict over having another mouth to feed. And Emma-Jean has an overwhelming desire to have a girl after giving birth to six boys. Deciding to deceive her family and others, Emma-Jean makes the decision to raise Perfect, born a boy, as a girl for the first eight years of his life. When circumstances force her to reveal the truth, everyone involved has to grapple with the consequences. VERDICT Black courageously delves into such sensitive issues such as sexuality, racism, and family dynamics and enchants readers with strong pacing and Southern imagery. Those who enjoy rich and complex works of literary fiction will be provoked to discuss this novel's many layers.—Lisa Jones, Birmingham P.L., AL
Kirkus Reviews
The author returns to the Arkansas setting of They Tell Me of a Home (2005). It's 1941, and Gustavus and Emma Jean Peace have just had their seventh child. Gus had hoped to be through having babies. Emma Jean-disappointed with six boys-is determined to try one last time for a girl. When God doesn't give her a daughter, she decides to make one herself. Naming the new baby "Perfect" and blackmailing the midwife to aid her in her desperate deception, Emma Jean announces the birth of a girl. For eight years, Emma Jean outfits her youngest child in pretty dresses, gives her all the indulgences she longed for in her own blighted girlhood and hides the truth from everyone-even herself. But when the truth comes out, Emma Jean is a pariah and her most-treasured child becomes a freak. It's hard to know quite what to make of this impassioned, imperfect novel. While another writer might have chosen to complement the sensationalism of his scenario with a tempered style, Black narrates his tale in the key of melodrama. He devotes a considerable number of pages to Emma Jean's experience as the unloved, darker (and therefore ugly) daughter, but since no amount of back story can justify Emma-Jean's actions, these passages become redundant. And, most crucially, Black builds toward the point when Perfect discovers that she's a boy, but seems confused about what to do with his character after this astonishing revelation. At the same time, the author offers a nuanced portrait of an insular community's capacity to absorb difference, and it's a cold reader who will be unmoved by his depictions. Original and earnest, informed both by human limitation and human potential.

Product Details

Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
Unabridged CD
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 5.30(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Perfect Peace

By Black, Daniel

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2010 Black, Daniel
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312582678

Chapter 1

Gus stood beside the living room window, waiting for the annual spring rains. They should have come by now, he noted, glancing at the battered Motley Funeral Home calendar hanging from a nail on the wall. It was May 17, 1940, and Gus’s wilted crops made him wonder if, somehow, he had angered Mother Nature. Usually the rains came between March and April, freeing him to hunt or fish the latter part of spring while cabbage, collard, and tomato sprouts strengthened in the moistened earth. That year, the stubborn rains prolonged the daily sojourn Gus and the boys took to the river and back—locals called it the Jordan—carrying five-gallon buckets of water for both their own and the sprouts’ survival.

Gus loved the rains. As a child, he lay in bed listening to the thunderous polyrhythms they drummed into the rusted tin rooftop. Something about the melody soothed his somber soul and allowed him to cry without fear of his father’s reprisal. After all, he was a boy, Chester Peace Sr. loved to remind him—as though his genitalia didn’t—and tears didn’t speak well for one who would, one day, become a man. The indelible imprint of Chester Sr.’s inordinately large hand on Gus’s tender face whenever he wept never bothered the boy who, in his heart, wantednothing more desperately than to emulate his father. But as he grew, he never learned to control his tears. He learned instead to hide whenever he felt their approach.

The rains awakened something in him. Maybe it was their steady flow that eroded his makeshift stoicism and caused water to gush from his eyes as if from a geyser. What ever the connection, Gus always wept along with the rains. He’d convinced himself that the sky, like him, was cursed with a heavy heart that required annual purging. So every spring since his tenth birthday, when the scent of moisture filled his nose he escaped to the Jordan River and stood amid the rain, wailing away pain like a woman in labor. Whether it lasted for hours or even a day, no one expected his return to normalcy until the showers subsided.

Gus was grateful others didn’t ask why he cried, because he couldn’t have explained it. Had he known words like "injustice" or "inequity" he might’ve been able to translate his feelings into words, but with a third-grade vocabulary, such articulation was out of the question. All he knew was that he cried when things weren’t right. He wept as a child when other children mocked his holey shoes, and then he wept when God refused to grant him the courage and the will to fight. He wept for mother birds that couldn’t find worms for their young. He wept for cows left freezing in the snow. He wept for Miss Mazie—the woman whose husband slashed her with a butcher’s mallet for talking back—and wept even harder when he overheard that they put the man away. Most of all he wept because he thought people in the world didn’t care.

His hardest days were between the rains. At the most inopportune moments, in the middle of the summer or the bitter cold of winter, he’d witness a wrong and water would ooze, unannounced, across his cheeks and he’d be forced to retreat into some private place where his tears wouldn’t be cause for ridicule. Yet these momentary cleansings never resulted in Gus’s complete healing. Only the annual spring rains set his heart aright again, so, after the third grade—the end of Gus’s formal education—he began anticipating the rains’ arrival. As soon as the first buds bloomed, he’d watch the heavens for signs of inclement weather, and when the dark clouds gathered, he’d run to the Jordan and welcome the downpour. After 1910, locals noted the beginning of spring when they heard Gus wailing in the distance and, whether out of fear or simple disinterest, no one bothered traveling to the riverbank to see exactly what Gustavus Peace was doing, much less why.

He needed the rains of 1940 worse than he’d ever needed them, for the impending birth of his seventh child—the only one he had never wanted—incited rage he feared he couldn’t restrain. Yet the rains wouldn’t come. Each morning he jumped from his sleeping pallet on the floor, sniffing the air like a Labrador retriever, hoping to smell the sweet scent of moisture, only to be disappointed when his nostrils inhaled particles of dry, pungent, red dust. Having never mentioned to his wife, Emma Jean, that he felt deceived by the pregnancy, Gus had waited since her ecstatic November announcement to unleash with the spring rains instead of strangling her. His greatest fear now was that an overflowing heart would cause him to crumble before his sons. Each day, his eyes glazed over and his hands began to tremble, and he cursed the rains for seemingly having abandoned him. So far, he had remained composed, but he knew he wouldn’t last much longer.

When Emma Jean screamed, Gus released the curtain, turned from the window, and looked toward their bedroom. It was really her bedroom, he thought, for he had slept on the floor since learning of her pregnancy. He liked it that way. It kept him from touching her and creating another mouth to feed. He wouldn’t have touched her this last time had Emma Jean not convinced him that she couldn’t have any more children. Gus asked why, and Emma Jean said that she was going through the change. He didn’t know exactly what that meant, but he took her at her word. The day she confessed her pregnancy, Gus nodded and promised in his heart never to touch her again. That would keep the children from coming, he reasoned, and that was exactly what he wanted.

"Push!" Henrietta coaxed with her hands cupped around the wet, slimy crown of the baby’s head.

Beads of sweat danced across Emma Jean’s shiny black forehead as she panted. With borrowed might, she clutched the sheets on which she lay and bellowed, "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" tossing her head from one edge of the pillow to the other. "Oh my God! I thought havin’ a girl"—breath—"would be easier than havin’ them big, knucklehead boys."

Henrietta chuckled. She had delivered almost every child in Conway County, Arkansas, since the 1920s, and if nothing else, she had learned that a baby’s gender could never be predicted. "This might be another boy, Emma," she warned softly. "Don’t get yo’ hopes up too high. Plenty women think they havin’ one thing and have somethin’ else. Now breathe and push again."

Emma Jean sighed, refusing to relinquish hope that she was finally birthing the daughter she’d always wanted. That hope lent her strength to push again. "AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" she growled, exposing the rich, deep alto for which folks at St. Matthew No. 3 Baptist Church were grateful. It was this voice that had caught Gus’s attention years ago, teasing his soul one Easter Sunday morning with a rendition of "He Rose" that left him tingling inside. He called the feeling love and asked Emma Jean to marry him. That was fifteen years ago. Back when he was a fool, he always said.

"It won’t be long now!" Henrietta encouraged. "Just a few more pushes and we’ll have ourselves another baby."

Emma Jean gripped the iron bars of the headpost and stared at the ceiling, delirious. She wanted to push again, but couldn’t find the strength. In the meantime, she wondered if Gus had decided upon a name, since he hadn’t liked any of her choices.

"What about Rose?" she’d posed one night, leaning over the edge of the bed.

Gus grunted something unintelligible and pulled the battered quilt over his head.

Emma Jean interpreted the response as a no. "Then what about Violet? Or maybe Priscilla?"

Too sle


Excerpted from Perfect Peace by Black, Daniel Copyright © 2010 by Black, Daniel. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Daniel Black was raised in Blackwell, Arkansas, and now teaches at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia. Daniel earned his PhD in African American studies from Temple University. He is the author of Listen to the Lambs, The Coming, Twelve Gates to the City, and The Sacred Place, among other books.

Ron Butler is a Los Angeles-based actor and voice artist with over a hundred film and television credits (playing everything from brooding doctors to screwball hipsters). Ron works regularly as a commercial and animation voice-over artist and has voiced a wide variety of audiobooks.

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Perfect Peace 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 326 reviews.
MissyMe More than 1 year ago
Perfect Peace certainly can embrace the saying "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger." Perfect was born male and his mother Emma Jean out of her desperation and need for a female child convinced her son he was a she. He was dressed in ribbons and dresses and often told how beautiful she was. He was not allowed to play with his/her brothers. When she would ask she was told "girls don't play with boys, her younger brothers wanted to play with her but they were told shes supposed to do girl stuff. At the age of eight Emma Jean takes Perfect into the woods and abruptly change Perfect from female to male(Perfect to Paul). She hacks her beautiful hair into a short cut, forces her to believe he's a boy and must learn to act like one. She also tells Paul that he will be ok. Paul's dad Gus is having trouble with this new information and in dealing with Paul. His mind is plagued with memories of Perfect his little girl, how does he transition his mind? How can he love a son who was once his little girl? Gus decides to let his son Authorly teach Perfect how to be a man. All six of her brothers try to help each one using their own talent and experience coupled with love of family. But its one brother that teaches Paul a lesson Jesus would be proud of. As the family tries to heal after learning what Emma Jean has done the deception proves to be pretty strong for this family and no one can understand Emma Jeans reasoning. It's not until the face of tragedy hits that moves this family towards healing and survival. Perfect Peace forces the reader to re-think what you feel you know about personal desires, identity, gender, and sexual orientation. Mr. Black did an excellent job of appropriating the language of our people during this time. Also if imagined how a child would handle an identity crisis that borders homosexuality amongst people who were not educated enough to have grace or mercy. It is the opinion of this reviewer that Perfect Peace is a work of literary genius. No matter who you are we are all "perfect" in His eyes and should be allowed to live in "peace". Next up "The Sacred Place" by the same author my library would be incomplete without The Sacred Place and "They tell me of a Home". Missy Readers Paradise 5 book marks
ReadingisFundamentalKD More than 1 year ago
Historical fiction isn't even my genre of choice, but the summary drew me in and I stayed up all night reading this book. It is an absolutely awesome tale of the African American experience, coming of age in the South, mental illness in Black America....and just a good read all wrapped into one. I don't know this author, but I will be on the lookout for other works by Daniel Black. Mmmmmmm....goood!
tmj4477 More than 1 year ago
This was a wonderful book! Once I started I just couldn't put it down. The author takes great care in making you understand no only the mind frame of Perfect but everyone in the book. My favorite character was King Solomon because he truly embodied you can accomplish ANYTHING if you put your mind to it. Ironically, Emma Jean's character reminded me of how important it is to let things go. This is a wonderful book you wont regret reading it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was book was the best book I read in a long time. Daniel Black brought his charaters alive. The storied moved easily and pulled me in. I felt intimate with the charaters. The book was so good. I laughed,I got angry and I cried. I visualized the whole scene and would love to see it as a movie it would be great. I can't say it enough this was a good book. I was truly impressed.
WalterVickerie More than 1 year ago
I must admit initially I was a little skeptical about how good a book about a boy being raised as a girl could be but that quickly changed after reading the very first chapter. There's something about great writing that has the power to draw a reader in regardless of the topic. The lessons about gender identity, forgiveness and purpose that I gained from this story are most appreciated and I just wanted to thank the author for having the courage to write it. The Perfect/Paul character was so identifiable because I believe there is a little bit of him in every little boy/girl - grown man/woman who has ever been reprimanded or ridiculed for being anything other than gender appropriate - whatever that means! This is an oddly interesting, personally important, provocative read for the 21st century and those who will take the chance to get to know this work will be better because of it. It gave me everything I needed to go further with my own personal journey.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a great book a must read. It almost unimaginable that something like this could happen, it was a soul toucher and changed my outlook on sexual preference, should be a movie!!!
ShezReadin More than 1 year ago
OMG!! This book gets better and better with every page turned!! Read it in two days because the NOOK got heavy!! (my first NOOK READ)!! I will not get into the story but "Perfect" was anything but, it made me laugh, cry, and just when you think you Read It All, here comes another twist!! The Peace Family don't have a family secret, they have a family tragedy. How did Emma Jean pull this off for so long, with so many people living in the home!! MUST READ! MUST READ! MUST READ! I personaly did not care for the ending after alllll that...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Daniel Black is a literary genius! This book was clever, funny, heartfelt and suspensful. Each chapter surprised me and each character tugged at my heartstrings. Perfect Peace is to-date my favorite book. The narrative is original and authentic. You won't be disappointed!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn’t put this book down! The character development was incredibly rich and detailed. Even the unlikeable characters were understandable given their environment. Highly recommended read!
MizzEvil More than 1 year ago
This book is worth a read! There is a description of the book on this page so I will not write what it is about. All I will say is that I felt so sad for Perfect/Paul. I cannot imagine doing that to a child and forever have a child be lost as to who he is.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The psyche is something else. The thought of a mother's selfishness ruining a child's life is beyond disheartening. But through it all, the victim survives and harbors no hard feelings. This book is a must read. Thank you, Daniel Black, for the experience.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I did not know whether to cry or rejoice! This book was truly one that could not be put down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ReadingAddicK More than 1 year ago
This book was awesome from start to finish, the plot was awesome the characters were great as well. Now that I have read this book, this author is now under my favorite. This was the first book I purchased on the nook, and I loved it. It's touching.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book, I cant truly say this is one of the best books I have ever read. My favorite character in the book is Eva Mae because through it all she stood by Perfect or Paul, when everybody else deserted him.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tbkeith More than 1 year ago
This has to be one of the best books I have read. Dr. Black creates a story in which bigotry, hatred, lies, deceit and retribution are all intermingled. He does it flawlessly and it is never confusing or bogged down. Perfect Peace is a little boy who's mother decides when he is born to raise him as the little girl she always wanted. With 6 boys already and issues from her growing up, she thinks that it is logical for her to go forward. The day after she turns 8, her mother explains to her that she is "a boy now" and that he needs to start acting like one. He is instantly transformed from Perfect, the little girl with the frilly dresses and bows in her hair, to Paul, the overall wearing Afro wearing boy. He is traumatized by his family, the community and himself because he doesn't know quite how to make this all work. The story was phenomenal!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Now this one will pull at your heart.....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A Beautiful story of how one Family stands together despite of the Mothers error. They struggle through the entire towns rebuke as well as their own demons. Daniel Black perfectly captures the emotions of each character in this novel, varying from happiness,anger,envy, strife,sorrow, pain,love,forgiveness etc. He also reflects on conquering fears ,accomplishing goals despite what others say or do. Highly recommended.
fancy112 More than 1 year ago
This story can be a little weird, but the author makes the story beleivable and therefor credible! I would like to read other books by this talented author!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a slow read at first; but then it picked up and I could not put it down!
PastorDeeDee More than 1 year ago
This story had me from the first chapter. The author did an amazing job of reflecting how deep loneliness and  longing for love can take a person..  I am going to read it again only because the book has so many more social and emotional implications that I know was missed during the first read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Feel me first result
Marlo Mister More than 1 year ago
Twisted, and disturbing, but you wont be able to put this book down!
DaDeltaDiva More than 1 year ago
Perfect Peace and her mother, Emma Jean were close. The daughter she always wanted .... or was she? Mr. Black does a great job pulling you into the story and characters. I have thought of them often, even after finishing the book. The impact of child abuse and neglect can go on for generations. Shame on Emma Jean's mother, shame on Emma Jean. Poor Gus!