Critically acclaimed in the New York Times Book Review, Chicago Tribune, and Los Angeles Times, Lynn Lauber's first book, White Girls, announced the debut of a new and distinctive voice in American fiction. Now, in 21 Sugar Street, Lauber returns to Loretta Dardio and Luther Biggs, a white girl and a black boy whose brief but powerfully affecting love affair irrevocably changed their lives and those of their families in the racially divided town of Union, Ohio. Lauber paints a portrait of Union as mythic and ...
Critically acclaimed in the New York Times Book Review, Chicago Tribune, and Los Angeles Times, Lynn Lauber's first book, White Girls, announced the debut of a new and distinctive voice in American fiction. Now, in 21 Sugar Street, Lauber returns to Loretta Dardio and Luther Biggs, a white girl and a black boy whose brief but powerfully affecting love affair irrevocably changed their lives and those of their families in the racially divided town of Union, Ohio. Lauber paints a portrait of Union as mythic and resonant as Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio. In the twenty years that have passed since Loretta and Luther's high school affair, Loretta has given up their illegitimate daughter for adoption and escaped to New York, while Luther has continued to make a life for himself in Union. Through multiple perspectives we meet this long-divided couple and others: Junior Johnson, the town's black mortician and Luther's father-in-law; Louis Dardio, Loretta's straight-laced younger brother, who is at once charmed and appalled by his sister's independence and willfulness; Annie Biggs, Luther's warm-hearted mother, who remains faithful to Loretta and her child; Marcia Milner, the disturbed adoptive brother; and finally Kay, the fruit of Loretta and Luther's union, who as a young woman returns to bridge their divided world, a reminder in these racially troubled times of love's capacity to transform and heal. Charles Baxter has called Lynn Lauber "a writer of considerable, exacting talents," and in this mesmerizing, surprising, unforgettable novel, Lauber has fulfilled her promise.
Returning in her debut novel to characters introduced in the short story collection White Girls ( LJ 2/15/90), Lauber continues her examination of the romance between Luther Biggs, a black mortician, and Loretta Dadio, a white girl who has his child out of wedlock. Loretta is sent away from their small Midwestern hometown to give up the baby for adoption, Luther marries another woman, and the ensuing complications fracture families and strain relationships for the next 20 years before climaxing in a melodramatic ending that unrealistically reunites all the characters. After a striking first chapter that shows the impact of a racist English teacher on a black boy's life, Lauber doesn't adequately develop characters and events in this slim volume. Her characters have the potential to be animated and deeply human, but they're too sketchily defined. Not essential for most collections.-- David A. Berona, Westbrook Coll. Lib., Portland, Me.
Lauber returns to Union, Ohio, the setting of "White Girls" (1990), her well-regarded collection of interconnected short stories, to trace into the present the repercussions of the late-1960s interracial teenage romance of Loretta Dardio and Luther Biggs (a central element in the earlier book). Seven characters tell different parts of the narrative: Loretta and her gangling younger brother, Louis; Luther and his mother, Annie; Elaine Johnson Biggs, the homecoming queen Luther marries before Loretta returns from the home for unwed mothers, and Junior Johnson, her mortician father, who disowns Elaine for marrying the disreputable Luther; and Marcia Milner, the unhappy white social worker who adopts Kim, Loretta and Luther's child. "21 Sugar Street" is Annie Biggs' home, a place where Loretta finds acceptance and love, Elaine struggles to define her place, and Luther manages to get his act together. Lauber has created a gallery of memorable characters and a tale that understands the agonizing divisions of family and class and race but affirms the healing power of life and love and connection.