Sexton (A Kind of Freedom) returns with this excellent story of a New Orleans family’s ascent from slavery to freedom, paying poetic tribute to their fearlessness and a “mind magic” that fixes the present, sees into the future, and calls out from the past. In alternating chapters, two women tell their haunting, frightening, and ultimately uplifting stories: Ava, a mixed-race single mom struggling to establish a career and raise a teenage son in 2017, and her great-great-grandmother Josephine, a former slave who in 1924 proudly runs the family farm. Ava’s decision to be the caregiver for her rich white grandmother, Martha, as she slips into dementia will trigger disturbing premonitions for her own cancer-stricken mother, a doula named Gladys. Josephine’s story focuses largely on her struggle to turn over management of the family farm to a son intent on standing up to the Klan—and a troubling interaction with a shy white neighbor who seeks out Josephine’s rumored powers to get pregnant and appease an abusive husband. A chilling plot twist reveals the insidious racial divide that stretches through the generations, but it’s the larger message that’s so timely. “Ain’t no use in hate,” Josephine’s mother advises. “Whatever you trying to get away from, hate just binds you to it.” This novel is both powerful and full of hope. (Nov.)
Winner of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work―Fiction
Winner of the 2020 George Garrett New Writing Award
Long-listed for the 2020 Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Prize
A New York Times Notable Book
A Time Must-Read Book of the Year
"This stunning novel features two African-American women connected by blood but divided by time: a biracial single mom in 2017 and a sharecropper turned farm-owning widow in 1924. The book grants the harsh facts of history the weight of myth; but the plot itself is not quite the point; this is a novel about the women." ―The New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice
"[Sexton’s] subtle portrayal of a Black mother’s competing desires is layered with both pathos and wit . . . This intermingling of stories makes an evocative point about the path that Black Americans have followed over the past century and a half. Each of these episodes is shattered by violence, yes, but also leavened by varying degrees of progress, despite the persistence of white people convinced of their superiority, innocence and benevolence. The result is a novel marked by acts of cruelty but not, ultimately, overwhelmed by them. The line stretching from Ava back to Josephine and beyond connects a collection of women attuned to danger, quick to adapt, remarkably hopeful about the future." ―Ron Charles, The Washington Post
"[A] sweeping novel . . . Sexton’s characters gain strength by finding one another across the generations." ―The New Yorker
"The Revisioners intricately probes and reveals the depths of women’s relationships, from the powerful to the marginalized, especially the bonds across the color line that make and break those relationships, and their generational legacies." ―Ibram X. Kendi, The Atlantic
"A powerful tale of racial tensions across generations." ―People
"Few capture the literary world’s attention with their debut like this author did; her first novel, A Kind of Freedom, was nominated for the National Book Award and earned several other top accolades. Her anticipated follow-up offers a bracing window into Southern life and tensions, alternating between two women’s stories―set nearly 100 years apart." ―David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly
"This winding, lyrical novel tells the story of several generations and the different eras they live in through the lens of one family. The novel focuses on exploring the depths of women's relationships, the endurance of hope and trauma across centuries, and the bonds between mothers and their children." ―Kerry Breen, TODAY
"In this incantatory novel by the author of A Kind of Freedom, a biracial New Orleans woman grapples with prejudice by excavating the story of a female ancestor who endured the roil between slavery and the Jazz Age." ―O, The Oprah Magazine
"Enthralling. . . a novel where marginalized yet undeniably resilient Black women are allowed to truly shine . . . The sheer power of The Revisioners proves Sexton isn’t a one-shot writer. She has immense talent." ―Alexis Burling, San Francisco Chronicle
"The plot of The Revisioners comes secondary to the strength and clarity of Sexton’s prose and its exploration of motherhood and daughterhood, of inherited trauma and the invisible bonds that tie us to the past and give us the power to move forward into the future." ―Jillian Karande, BuzzFeed
"The Revisioners is a sublime marriage of stunning sentences and a chilling, insidious story, like if Get Out were literary fiction." ―Elena Nicolau, Refinery29
"Sexton (A Kind of Freedom) returns with this excellent story of a New Orleans family’s ascent from slavery to freedom, paying poetic tribute to their fearlessness and a 'mind magic' that fixes the present, sees into the future, and calls out from the past. In alternating chapters, two women tell their haunting, frightening, and ultimately uplifting stories . . . A chilling plot twist reveals the insidious racial divide that stretches through the generations, but it’s the larger message that’s so timely . . . This novel is both powerful and full of hope." ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In her second novel (following the National Book Award long-listed A Kind of Freedom), Sexton weaves well-crafted intergenerational narratives, each set in a different era and each giving voice to strong women of color. Ava, a single, multiracial mother, lives in post-Katrina New Orleans with her son, King. After struggling to make ends meet, she moves in with her aging grandmother, a white woman who has begun to show signs of dementia. Sexton's other narrative tells the story of Ava's not-so-distant ancestor Josephine at two different points in her life. As a child, Josephine was enslaved on a plantation prior to the Civil War along with her parents. As an older woman, she is devoted to her family's successful farm, though she is occasionally sought for her expertise as a conjurer.
VERDICT The dynamics of a brutal past encompassing violence and racial inequality is core here, but the narrative is significant for acknowledging that elements of that past are not completely past and for portraying two fearless women separated by time but both dealing with white women's racism. Recommended for all collections.—Faye Chadwell, Oregon State Univ., Corvallis
A conjure woman who escaped slavery obliquely guides her descendants in 2017 New Orleans.
This second novel from Sexton confirms the storytelling gifts she displayed in her lushly readable debut, A Kind of Freedom. The new book opens as cash-strapped Ava Jackson is reluctantly moving herself and her 12-year-old son, King, into the mansion of a declining Martha Dufrene, her white grandmother. The first sentence—"It was King who told me we forgot the photograph"—suggests this object will matter. And indeed, Ava goes back for the portrait of Miss Josephine, her "grandmother's great-grandmother," a woman with second sight. Her part in the secret sect "the revisioners" is shrouded in time, but Josephine serves as the spine of this deftly structured novel. In one thread of chapters, she narrates her 1855 escape from bondage as a child and, in another, her rise to rural matriarch. In the framed 1924 photo, a widowed Josephine stands on the edge of her farm: "I still find new mercy in the fact this house belongs to me; that the pine boards overlap to keep the rodents out; the windows swing all the way open." But this is the year that an aging Josephine makes the mistake of pitying a white neighbor, Charlotte, who confides that she married her brutish husband because "her mama said that he wore nice shoes, that his mama had all her teeth." A third braid of chapters follows Ava, letting the reader slowly grasp a parallel treachery coiled in Martha and Charlotte. Martha's creepy home conjures its own Get Out-flavored claustrophobia, and Charlotte eventually cozies up to the Klan. In this wondrous telling, King can lie on the sofa playing Fortnite in the same short book where Josephine's fleeing family is hobbling "the other horses whose shoes need to be damaged so no one could follow us straight away."
At the intriguing crossroads of the seen and the unseen lies a weave among five generations of women.