Tempest Rising

( 5 )


Set in west Philadelphia in the early sixties, Tempest Rising tells the story of three sisters, Bliss, Victoria, and Shern, budding adolescents raised in a world of financial privilege among the upper-black-class. But their lives quickly unravel as their father's lucrative catering business collapses. He disappears and is presumed dead, and their mother suffers an apparent breakdown. The girls are wrenched from their mother, and as the novel opens they are living in foster care in a working-class neighborhood in ...

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Tempest Rising: A Novel

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Set in west Philadelphia in the early sixties, Tempest Rising tells the story of three sisters, Bliss, Victoria, and Shern, budding adolescents raised in a world of financial privilege among the upper-black-class. But their lives quickly unravel as their father's lucrative catering business collapses. He disappears and is presumed dead, and their mother suffers an apparent breakdown. The girls are wrenched from their mother, and as the novel opens they are living in foster care in a working-class neighborhood in the home of Mae, a politically connected card shark. Though Mae is filled with syrupy names like "pudding" and "doll face" for the foster girls, she is abusive to her own child, Ramona, a twenty-something stunning beauty. As Ramona struggles with Mae's abuse and her own hatred for the foster children, she also tries to keep at bay a powerful attraction she has for her boyfriend's father.

Diane McKinney-Whetstone richly evokes the early 1960s in west Philadelphia in this spicy story of loss and healing, redemption and love.

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Editorial Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle
“McKinney-Whetstone’s gifts as a writer continue to fascinate.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“McKinney-Whetstone’s gifts as a writer continue to fascinate.”
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With overreaching prose and overwhelming family tangles, McKinney-Whetstone's return to black Philadelphia, this time in the 1960s, never quite lives up to the promise of her debut, Tumbling. Raised by her affectionate, idiosyncratic aunts and uncles after her mother's death, middle-class Clarise elopes with a poor but talented cook named Finch, and together they open their own successful catering business. Soon, three beautiful daughters Shern, Victoria and Bliss complete their vision of bourgeois happiness, but the repeal of Jim Crow laws lures their best customers away to white catering chains, and Finch dies in a last-ditch effort to save his faltering business. Already fragile, Clarise is hospitalized with a breakdown. When an old criminal conviction denies custody of the girls to the aunts and uncles, the children are placed in a nightmarish foster home run by compulsive gambler Mae and her adult daughter, Ramona. The children's and adults' lives are complicated by various betrayals: Mae abuses Ramona's credit; Ramona's boyfriend, Tyrone, finds comfort with another woman (while Ramona pines for Tyrone's father); and Mae's favorite cousin sexually assaults Shern. Pushed beyond their limits, the girls at last run away and the adults must work together to find them. Subplots of minor consequence overshadow the primary story, and McKinney-Whetstone's adult characters are too unreflective to win our sympathy. Despite patches of warmth and humor, melodrama prevails over some flashing moments which remind one of McKinney-Whetstone's potential.
Library Journal
McKinney-Whetstone's second novel (following Tumbling) is a heart-wrenching story about the strength of family and the power of love. After their father's disappearance and their mother's breakdown, sisters Shern, Victoria, and Bliss are sent to a foster home to live with Ramona, a beautiful but hard woman, and her mother, Mae, whose sweetness to her foster children masks an abusive nature and a murderous secret. The girls' struggle to return home and Ramona's fight for control of her own life climax during a freak March snowstorm. With simple phrases and beautifully drawn characters, the author masterfully evokes the pain and fear of separation and the determination of people trying to get through one more day with their hope intact. A first-rate novel; highly recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/97.]Ellen Flexman, Indianapolis-Marion Cty. P.L.
School Library Journal
Philadelphia in 1965 comes alive in this fast-moving story of courage and determination. With the success of the civil rights movement, African Americans begin to take their business outside their community, and Finch's thriving catering business falls into near bankruptcy. His wife and their three adolescent daughters, Shern, Victoria, and Bliss, have only known comfortable living, and are not prepared for the upheaval that they must face. Finch's death leads to his wife's mental breakdown and his daughters are placed in foster care, unable to contact their mother or their extended family. Mae is in the foster-home business for the money while her daughter, Ramona, is the actual caregiver; their relationship is far from simple. When Mae returns home from a family visit, she brings along her teenage nephew, who attempts to molest Shern. Afraid to speak up and yet fearful of what might eventually happen, she convinces her sisters to flee the foster home. Loose threads are tightly connected as the story reaches its climax, and all ends happily. All of the characters are uniquely and vividly drawn.-Dottie Kraft, formerly at Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
John Keene
McKinney-Whetstone does not simply tell a fine story but conjures a world, storms and all, between the covers.
— John Keene,The Washington Post
Kirkus Reviews
McKinney-Whetstone (Tumbling, 1996) scores big on mood and language, less on plot and character. A trio of Philadelphia-born sisters is the focus of this solid if uninspired second novel: Shern, Victoria, and Bliss are born to loving, well-meaning parents, but the forces of circumstance cause their lives to change drastically one day in 1965. Their mother, the light-skinned, lighthearted Clarise, and their father, the dark-skinned, dashing Finch, have a charmed marriageuntil Finch's catering business hits rocky waters, and dire financial need causes him to go out on a fateful crabbing trip. An inexperienced boater, he drowns in a sudden storm, thinking, as he dies, of Clarise and the girls. Clarise, in mourning, is prescribed Valium; no one knows that she's allergic to the drug, and so when she collapses it's assumed that she's attempted suicide by overdose and is having a breakdown caused by her husband's death. As a result, Clarise is institutionalized and the girls are assigned to foster care. They end up living with the hard-edged Mae, a gambler, and her neglected daughter Ramona, in a blue-collar neighborhood where everything is foreign to them. Although Mae is decent to Shern, Victoria, and Bliss, she has some serious problems of her own, and her abusive behavior toward Ramona strains credibility, even though Ramona herself is not the most lovable of characters. In fact, Ramona's interactions with her boyfriend and her boyfriend's father are among the more disturbing elements in the story. Meanwhile, Clarise survives her ordeal in the asylum, but when she gets out, she can't at first find her daughters. It takes time, persistence, and luck, but eventually the family isreunited, and even Mae and Ramona seem moved to try to rebuild their own relationship. A satisfying end makes up, somewhat, for a convoluted storyline. McKinney-Whetstone's material this time, though, is not nearly as strong as her voice.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688166403
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/28/1999
  • Series: Quill
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 949,626
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Diane McKinney-Whetstone is the author of five acclaimed novels and the recipient of numerous awards, including the American Library Association's Black Caucus Literary Award for Fiction, which she won twice. She teaches fiction writing at the University of Pennsylvania and lives in Philadelphia with her husband, Greg.

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Read an Excerpt

Clarise's aunt Ness wasn't the only one praying for their prosperity. Finch had moneymaking on his mind from the start of their holy matrimony. Clarise's type of beauty begged for mink and silk. But before he thought about such large-scale purchases, he knew he'd want to keep her in sheer, lacy nightgowns. He'd noticed right away after he'd carried her over the threshold of their honeymoon hotel on Kentucky Avenue in Atlantic City and she'd unpacked the quality tweed suitcase that belonged to the uncles, there was only the fancy nightgown. Lord have Mercy he thought she'll leave me for some other cat if I can't keep her in good lingerie. He could hardly concentrate on satisfying her appetites that night thinking about that nightgown. She'd teased him so, played peek aboo and hide-and-seek with her one nightgown before she'd let him poke his fingers thought the holed the lace made.

Finch just lay there staring at the ceiling that entire night while Clarise snored softly against his chest and lightly ground her teeth. Instead of counting sheep, Finch ticked off the mammoth hidden costs of having such a beautiful bride. In addition to nightgowns, there would be fine nylons, imported scents, luxurious skin creams, manicures, and pedicures, and even though he loved her hair when it went soft and bushy and looked like cotton candy, felt like it too when it bounced all up and down his chest to the rhythm of her body working his manhood like it had never been worked before, he knew she'd want to get that cotton candy hair pressed out on a regular basis and not at someone's kitchen table either; she warranted the finest, full service salons.

The list of expenses kept accumulating inFinch's head even until morning, when Clarise woke glowing and chattering about that delicious ocean breeze sifting through the screen in the Kentucky Avenue hotel.

"Come on, Finch, — she giggled — "let's hurry and swim in the ocean early before the beach gets crowded and people let their untrained children stir up the sand in our faces and pee in the ocean and scatter wax paper from their bologna and cheese sandwiches all over the shoreline."

Mercy Lord, he thought. He hadn't even gotten to children. Children would be a whole separate list. As it was already, he'd have to work night and day as a short order cook at the Seventeenth-Street Deweys. But he couldn't work night and day. Surely Clarise would get bored waiting for him to come home to play peekaboo games with her nightgown.

He was so plagued with thoughts of some prosperous cat showering his exotic beauty of a bride with see-through lacy lingerie that his steps lumbered heavier than usual as they walked to the beach. Clarise tickled him and tried to entice him into a game of tag; she slapped his butt, blew into his ear, called him honeybunch, and jumped up and down like a squirrel as they walked. Finch hardly grunted. "Got things on my mind, pretty baby," he said.

"But the sun is overhead, the ocean's in our sight, the day is young and so are we, Finch. What could possibly be so pressing on your mind?"

Before he could tell her that it was money, the type of money he'd need to treat her, to keep her, to do right by her as her man, a seagull released it's creamy droppings right on to Finch's hatless head. "What the fuck," he said as he patted his head and looked up, only to have the loose boweled gull go again and again and again, substantial plops, until Finch had to cover his head and run around in circles.

Clarise was laughing and really hopping now. "Oh, Finch, it's glorious, it's the most wonderful thing. I knew it! I knew it! I was right. Thank you Lord, I was so damned right."

"What the hell is so freaking wonderful about a nasty gull shitting on my head? Finch asked, wiping his forehead furiously, trying to keep the shit from his eyes.

"It's luck, silly fool." Clarise continued to laugh. "Bird shit, just a dripping on your head means prosperity. And look at you. You're covered in shit. We're going to be rich, rich, I tell you, Finch. Filthy rich. So rich we'll move to a huge, brick single heaven of a house. And that's what we'll call it, Finch. Heaven. We're on our way to Heaven, my wide-backed, flat-footed man." She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and kissed his face, even where the milky omen of their prosperity dripped and ran.

Copyright ) 1998 by Diane McKinney-Whetstone

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Reading Group Guide


It is 1965 in Philadelphia. Clarise, Finch, and their three adolescent daughters are living the dream life of the black financially privileged when suddenly Finch's lucrative catering business falls on hard times and Clarise suffers an apparent nervous collapse. The daughters are placed in the foster care of Mae and her stunningly beautiful yet mean-spirited daughter, Ramona. The girls' presence in and subsequent disappearance from Mae's house force Mae and Ramona to confront the brutal secret that caused their hearts to lock against each other.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Recount the number and variety of ways in which the author uses food to convey a mood, describe a character, or mark a change in the plot. Are all these food references positive in nature?

  2. In Tempest Rising, the definition of "family" is altered by McKinney-Whetsone's use of aunts and uncles, rather than traditional parents, in raising Clarise. Did this pose advantages and/or disadvantages to the nurturing Clarise received? Did her relationship with her aunts and uncles have bearing upon her own daughters' upbringing?

  3. Ramona's lack of a father figure influenced her choice of male companions in adult life. Does this explain her ambivalent attitude toward men? How did Tyrone and his father Perry fulfill Ramona's image of, and need for, men in her life? Did they perpetuate her father's indefinable, absentee presence, or represent more stable entities?

  4. What made Mae's treatment of her daughter Ramona change so drastically after the murder of Donald Booker? Do you think Ramona's forgiveness at the end of the book was plausible after a lifetime of neglect and abuse?

  5. Much of Tempest Rising takes place during the Civil Rights movement, and the lives of its characters are changed, for better and for worse, by the introduction of the Civil Rights Act. Discuss the paradoxical impact of this historic law and its effect on Clarise, Finch, and their family.

  6. Ramona has been described by both the author and reviewers as the book's central character. In what ways is she more fully developed than Clarise or Mae? In what ways does she attempt to subdue—and perpetuate—her emotional roller coaster life? How does she benefit by perpetuating her conflicting natures?

  7. When the author was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, there were few prominent black writers, especially females. Now, a whole new genre of books by African-American women writers is gaining ground. How do you think Ms. McKinney-Whetstone's early reading experiences shaped her as a writer? Do her books speak only to black audiences, or do they have universal, crossover appeal?

About the Author

Diane McKinney-Whetstone is the author of the national bestseller Tumbling. A native of Philadelphia, she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where she now teaches fiction writing. She is a regular contributor to Philadelphia magazine, and her work has appeared in Essence and the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine. She has received numerous awards, including a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant, the Zora Neale Hurston Society Award, a Citation from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Author of the Year Award from the national Go On Girl Book Club. She lives with her husband, Greg, and teenage twins outside Philadelphia.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2001

    A Compelling Novel from the Heart

    This book establishes a sense of family love; it exposes the ties that blood relatives have with one another, whether or not they choose to acknowlege it. I thought it was highly entertaining; I liked sixtie's setting, and I appreciated the vivid descriptions of the characters as well as the setting. All of the characters had their own unique personality-that's what makes this book worthwhile. With a heartwarming ending, it'll almost make you cry.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2000


    Thumbs up for Ms. Whetstone. Tempest Rising was a compelling story of 'to have loved and lost'. She captured the souls of the characters. A profound look at the love that existed between Clarisa and her daughters versus the hate that transpired between Mae and Ramona. The story makes you take a glimpse of what our social services are like for our children. I felt like I was sitting on a park bench watching every scene. Whetstone's vividness and clarity was remarkable. I would recommend this novel to all readers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2000



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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2000

    If you have ever felt love for anyone before......

    Diane McKiney-Whetstone did it again. This is a love story. Not in the boy meets girl context but in the family honor context. Concentrated in the city of Philadelphia in the 60's, Diane writes about the love one family has for one another and the steps they go through to keep the family together. She shows us that anything worth having is worth working hard for whether you have to fight the law or an individual.

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    Posted May 30, 2011

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    Posted December 30, 2010

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    Posted July 14, 2010

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