Tempest Rising: A Novel

Tempest Rising: A Novel

by Diane McKinney-Whetstone


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780688166403
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/20/1999
Series: Quill
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 605,159
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

The author of the critically acclaimed novels Tumbling, Tempest Rising, Blues Dancing, Leaving Cecil Street, and Trading Dreams at Midnight, Diane McKinney-Whetstone is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Black Caucus of the American Library Association’s Literary Award for Fiction, which she won twice. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband. For more on Diane McKinney-Whetstone please visit www.mckinney-whetstone.com or follow her on Twitter @Dianemckwh.

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

What People are Saying About This

Alice Walker

Deep, rich, compelling...I am astonished, moved, and delighted.

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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Tempest Rising 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
MsNikki on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I just really like her style. Like all good writers she draws you in by making the emotions real, so you're constantly thinking, yea I understand why you behave so.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
just discovered this book and author. loved the story. look forward to reading more
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The characters are interesting and woven into an excellent story tale set in Black Philadelphia in the 1960's.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.