"McFadden's reissued second novel takes an unflinching look at the corrosive nature of alcoholism . . . This is not a story of easy redemption . . . McFadden writes candidly about the treacherous hold of addiction."
"Riveting. . . . So nicely avoids the sentimentality that swirls around the subject matter. I am as impressed by its structural strength as by the searing and expertly imagined scenes."
--Toni Morrison, author of Beloved
"The sharpness of the prose and power of the story make it hard to stop reading even the most brutal scenes . . . The story feels real perhaps because it’s familiar . . . Or maybe, as Frey points out, the story is too vivid to be read purely as fiction. But in this Precious-style novel, genre is the least of our concerns."
"This is a story that cuts across all race and social strata in its need to be told."
--The Dallas Morning News
The Warmest December is the incredibly moving story of one Brooklyn family and the alcoholism that determined years of their lives. Narrated by Kenzie Lowe, a young woman reminiscent of Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John, as she visits her dying father and finds that choices she once thought beyond her control are very much hers to make.
Bernice L. McFadden is the author of seven critically acclaimed novels.
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About the Author
Bernice L. McFadden: Bernice L. McFadden is the author of seven critically acclaimed novels including the classic Sugar and Glorious, which was featured in Oprah Magazine and selected as the debut title for the One Book, One Harlem program. She is a two-time Hurston/Wright Legacy Award finalist, as well as the recipient of two fiction honor awards from the BCALA. Her sophomore novel, The Warmest December, was praised by Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison as "searing and expertly imagined." McFadden lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Read an Excerpt
Now and then I forget things, small things that would not otherwise alter my life. Things like milk in my coffee, setting my alarm clock, or Oprah at four. Tiny things.
One day last week I forgot that I hated my father, forgot that I had even thought of him as a monster, forgot the blows he'd dealt my body over the years and the day he called me to him and demanded that I show him my hands. "Are they clean?" he asked as I slowly raised my arms. "Yes, sir," I said and shook my head furiously up and down.
They were clean, in fact still damp from my having washed them. "Come closer," he said. "Come closer so I can see better," he said. I moved closer and closer until my small hands were right beneath his chin. "I see a speck of dirt," he said and stifled a laugh. I smelled the whiskey. It was whiskey then.
"A speck of dirt ... hmmm ... right there," he said and smashed the hot tip of his cigarette down into the soft middle of my eight-year-old palm. I'd forgotten that day, the broken ribs, and the feel of the hard leather belt that held his Levi's up and left black bruises on my lower back and the underside of my thighs.
I forgot how the sound of my mother crying ate holes inside of me and ripped a space open near my heart. But worst of all I forgot about Malcolm, and for some reason I woke up early one cold winter morning and boarded two buses, traveling over an hour to sit by his bedside in Kings County Hospital.
By then he looked nothing like the beast I imagined from my childhood. The hands that had caused so much pain and left so many bruises were now shriveled and black, the fingers curled under like the ragged claws of a vulture. The fingernails were long gone, having decayed months earlier until finally flaking off and turning to dust as they hit the floor.
I sat for a long time watching him, while the winter sun fought to be seen through the dirty, cracked glass windows of his hospital room.
The room was heated but I did not remove my heavy jacket or the thick rust-colored wool hat that covered my head. Being this close to him made me shiver despite the warmth, and I dug my hands deep into my pockets, where my fingers were going numb at the tips.
He had less than half of his liver left, and bad blood circulated through his body, turning his once warm cinnamon-colored skin an inky black. The veins in his arms and legs were weak and thin; the only good vein left was in his penis, so that's where they attached most of the tubes. Della thought that was funny and had smiled smugly when the doctor shared that piece of information with her.
Dozens of tubes ran in, out, and through every part of his body, like translucent tentacles, and I half-expected them to stretch out and enwrap me in their plastic grip.
Most of his teeth were gone and the ones that remained were the color of butter, buried in tobacco-brown gums. Never a big man, his small frame had withered so that his skin draped on his body instead of looking tailored to fit.
I watched him, and to my surprise my heart pulled in my chest as I remembered a Saturday a few years earlier when we still owned the house. The rain and wind were pounding at the windows, ripping away the petals of the tulips that filled the garden and tearing at the black phone lines hanging above the two-family homes that lined the neighborhood.
It was Saturday and no matter the rain and the gray of the day, the sheets needed changing and the laundry needed to be done.
Della's hands were hurting. The damp weather was aggravating her arthritis, her fingers refused to bend, and her knee swelled and bulged through her pants leg.
I told her not to worry, I would change the linens on her bed and wash her clothes. "Leave my underwear alone," she said as she half-walked, half-limped her way to the kitchen. "I'll wash those tomorrow when I'm feeling better." I just smiled and shook my head and then began stripping the sheets from the bed.
I picked up Della's pillow first, removed its case, and then went for Hy-Lo's, but I dropped it back down to the bed just as quickly as I had snatched it up. I stood staring at it for some time, trying to distinguish what I thought were tiny blooming roses camouflaged among the green-stemmed daffodils that sprinkled the mauve canvas of the pillowcase.
I scratched my head in confusion and checked Della's pillowcase. No blooming roses there. I looked at the matching top sheet and bed ruffle. Again, no blooming roses.
My heart began to race and I could feel panic taking hold of me like a vice grip. The air became thin, and all at once I knew that the crimson rose-shaped figures were not roses at all, but splatterings of blood.
That dried sanguine fluid dragged me toward a knowledge I had been sidestepping for some time. Two, maybe three years at least. I had managed to ignore Hy-Lo's bloated stomach and swollen face, disregarding the stench that seeped from his pores and hung thick in the air like smoke and settled deep into the upholstery. I chose instead to smile away the smell and his physical appearance rather than offer explanation when a visitor raised his or her eyebrows in surprise.
He was ill. More than ill at that point. My grandma Mable said he was wiping his feet on Death's doormat.
I collected myself best I could and gathered the soiled linens and carried them down to the basement. He was there; he was always there, sitting in his recliner in front of the television surrounded by old lamps, boxes that held long-forgotten items, and dusty, rusting gym equipment that hadn't helped a body in years.
The washing machine was to his left and he rarely bothered to acknowledge anyone who came to use it, he would just lean forward, remote control in hand, and increase the already earsplitting volume of the television.
But for some reason, on that windy, rainy Saturday, he turned and looked at me and I forgot I hated him and smiled. He did not return my happy face with his own, but gave me a queer sort of look before turning his attention back to the television.
I looked at his balding head and the tiny sores that had begun to fester there, and I pitied him. A pity so deep and blue welled up within me like the sea, misting my eyes and blurring the image of the tiny blooming roses on the mauve pillowcase just before I dropped it into the soapy water of the washing machine.
He moved a bit. His head turned left then right, and he squeezed his eyes so tightly that milky tears ran out and onto his hollowed cheeks. I looked away from him, past the other three beds and the sick men they held, toward the open door of the room. I wanted so much to get up and leave, escape back into the bright winter sunlight. I wanted so much to reach over and pluck a Kleenex from the box on the nightstand beside his bed and gently wipe the sick tears away from his face.
Instead, I pulled my chair closer, hiding myself behind the green curtain that surrounded us.
These were his last days and he would spend them on his back, tubes running in, out, and through his body. Orderlies would come in once a day to give him a sponge bath, maybe fluff his pillow, and make sure the sheet was tucked tight beneath his mattress. Visitors would look at him when their conversations waned, allowing their eyes to travel over his face, and maybe they would wonder who he was or who he had been. They might whisper, "Who's that? What's wrong with him?" but the people they confided in would not be able to give a response. Instead, they'd just shrug their shoulders, dismissing my father over their food tray.
I blinked back the tears that I could not understand and focused on the beige wall behind his bed. There were bits of tape that still clung there, yellow and brittle reminders of a Get Well card or a banner from a relative of the patient who'd lain there before my father. Someone who got better, got up, and checked back into the world.
Hy-Lo would never get better. Never stand up and stretch as if just awakened from a long nap. Never smile at the rosy-cheeked nurse as he signed his release papers or check the nightstand drawer a second time to make sure he was not leaving his Father's Day watch behind.
Hy-Lo would leave the hospital almost exactly the way he came in: on his back with his eyes closed. Except this time there would be no heartbeat, not even the faint one that kept him alive now.
I shivered again and pulled my collar up around my neck, folding my hands beneath my armpits and repressing the urge to stamp my feet for warmth. The sun was setting and the thermostat in the room rose five degrees. But my memories were cold and I was closer to him now. The heat would do me no good. Leaving would be best. Leaving would mean warmth, but I stayed until the streetlights glowed and the rosy-cheeked nurse placed a small soft hand on my shoulder. "Ma'am, eight o'clock," she said with a smile.
I looked stupidly at her. "Visiting hours are over," she said with an air that made me think she felt this was something I should know.
"Oh," I said, and gathered myself to leave. I moved the chair back to its place beside the wall. I would remember just how close I'd gotten and perhaps tomorrow I would get closer.
I walked briskly up the street and away from the dark, looming brick walls of the hospital. I walked with my head down, cussing my feet for having carried me there to begin with. I hated Hy-Lo and had for most of my life. The other part of my life was lost deep inside of me in a place where I was not yet able to reach.
I had hated him so desperately that as a child I prayed for his demise more times than I care to remember. I'd even plotted to poison him by spraying his favorite drinking mug with Raid roach spray. In my mind Hy-Lo was a treacherous two-legged insect that made sudden and unwelcome appearances.
I hated him so desperately that I cried it into my pillow when I was five and mumbled it beneath my breath at ten. By the time I was thirteen I was screaming it into his face and catching the callused palm of his hand across my cheek for doing so. He was a stone wall and my hostility was nothing more than paper tossed against it. Or so I thought.
For years I believed, as I had as a child, that his absence would wipe the memories of him clean away. "That would be impossible," a lover of mine had once suggested, his hand moving across an inch-long battle scar from a belt buckle gone wild. "Hmm," was my only reply. He never saw me in the nude again.
I hurried past a woman wrapped in colorful cloth and newspaper. Her hair was thick and matted and hung down to her neck in brown turds of filth and grime. She was bent over a garbage can, both of her hands deep into the waste and filth, rummaging through it as if sorting through her sock drawer.
Walking past, I turned slightly to look back at her and realized that I was back where I had started, in front of the hospital. The concrete stairs lay before me, the silver specks it held shimmered beneath the street lamps, reminding me of a summer day in 1970 and the way the sun gleamed through the warm air that glided around me, setting the stage for the hate I would develop at the tender age of five.
At that age life just was. It wasn't what it would become: black hours, and days on end when the only thing that mattered was the next drink and then later, the next meeting. No, life was supposed to be sweet at that age and the only thing you would have to count were the hours before the sun rose again, allowing you to lose yourself in the happy world of Crayola, cartoons, and blue Italian ice.
In 1970 I was five years old and summertime was a play- ful woman-child that kept watch over me in the daytime and rocked my mother through her lonely nights. She was the intense heat and long sweltering nights that kept people out late, fanning themselves on the stoop of their five-story walk-up or sometimes forcing them out onto the rusted fire escape, where they would lie, half-naked on a bare mattress, and watch the heavy yellow moon until sleep stole their eyes away.
That was where my first real memory took place, right there in the midst of summer, beneath a rain of clothes that fell from the fifth floor and landed around the small feet of Glenna and me. We were not yet friends, but would become the best of friends in time.
Glenna and her mother had moved in just as spring slowly took winter's place. Our eyes had locked in the halls of our building during our daily comings and goings. Our mothers had traded nods and polite hellos, but no formal introduction had been made.
On that summer day Glenna stood less than five feet away from me, her hair plaited neatly in six long cornrows that began at the top of her forehead and ended in ropes that hung down her back. She had a yellow yo-yo that she held tight in the palm of her hand, allowing it to fall to the end of its string only when my eyes grew tired of watching her and moved to scrutinize something other than her clean white Keds and green jump-suit.
We should not have been there, but it was hot in the house and Della had sent me outside to play beneath the oak tree, where the shade was cooler than beneath the steady whirl of the fan. I was lining up milk crates for a game of train, while Hy-Lo, my father, washed and waxed his car. His transistor radio sat cradled in the driver's plush green seat, spilling out the Jackson Five's song about love and the alphabet. Glenna had also been ordered outside.
In only three short months Glenna's mother, Pinky, had become the talk of the building. She was infamous for her loud two-person parties. They all began and ended the same. Pinky coming in from the Blue Bar around midnight, stockings torn and wig akimbo; some man, some good woman's husband, behind her, his hand beneath her dress before she even got the key in the door. She'd put on Marvin Gaye and open her window, filling the courtyard with his sexy lyrics until someone hollered out, "Turn that shit down. Some of us have to get up in the morning!" But she never did.
Her laughter would come in spurts, sailing above the music, reaching its own crescendo and then falling into a deep groan. Something would happen, perhaps a misplaced word or a denied carnal request, that would ignite an explosion of filthy words and flying fists that snatched Glenna and the rest of the tenants from their sleep.
But there was no one sleeping on that day, not at three in the afternoon. This man did not stumble in from the Blue Bar in the middle of the night. This man had driven up to the apartment house, rung her bell, and greeted her with a kiss that caused my mother's face to heat and her eyes to drop. An old friend in town for a night. The night turned into twenty-one sunsets, ten matchstick covers holding simple names and seven digits, lipstick-stained collars, and two women too many ringing Pinky's phone and boldly asking, "Pablo there?"
That afternoon he left quickly and on foot, Pinky's screams at his back violently shoving him forward. His lip was busted and bleeding and his cream silk shirt was ripped at the cuff. I blinked as he moved past me like the wind and around the corner to the Blue Bar. I looked at Glenna but her head was tilted back, her small hand shading her eyes as she looked up at her mother. The curse words came first, a string of indictments in Panamanian Spanish and broken Brooklyn English. Passersbys either stopped to stare up at her or lowered their heads and hurried on. My father stopped his waxing, turned off the transistor radio, and leaned against the side of the car. He lit a Camel cigarette and inhaled the coarse smoke. When he exhaled, he laughed and shook his head.
The clothes came next.
We stood, there, Glenna and I, our hearts beating in quick unison as polyester bell-bottomed pants and knit shirts came down around us. Then the shoes came flying down like grenades, sending us scurrying into the street for safety. We did not look at each other; our eyes remained on the boxer shorts and black silk socks that flew from the window like wingless birds.
"He ain't never coming back in here! Never!" Pinky's affirmation could be heard from Nostrand Avenue all the way down to Bedford Street. It was a refrain every woman in that neighborhood had heard or said more than once.
The clothes stopped coming and then she was on the stoop: Pinky, with her milky brown skin, carrot-colored hair on top and black roots on the bottom. She was wrapped in a red silk robe that barely covered her thick thighs and broad behind, and to make it worse, she had forgotten to knot the belt. Her breast, heavy and bruised, but still beautiful to the men that stopped to stare, played a swinging peek-a-boo with the audience that was gathering on the sidewalk. She did, thankfully, have on underwear; black nylon that barely covered her privates, lending onlookers a glimpse of the wild, black Panamanian hair that grew there.
Glenna gasped but didn't move. Pinky was leaping down the stairs like Spiderman, cussing with each step she took.
She hit the sidewalk and snatched up one of my milk crates all in one motion. I took another step backward, anticipating the outcome of that action. Pinky ran over to Pablo's cream-colored, four-door Cadillac and brought the crate down hard into the front window. It shattered and buckled beneath the impact. Then she ran to the rear window and repeated the deed, with increased force and intensity. The men that watched forgot about the swinging breast and scrunched their faces against the destruction that was unfolding before them. She smashed each side window and then pulled an ice pick from the pocket of her robe and bent over, revealing her tight broad behind to the world, and sliced, stabbed, and jabbed at each of the four tires, until the air whistled out of them and they were dead. Then she crumbled into a heap of female ruin on the pavement.
The crowd moved on.
Della approached, at first with caution and then her steps quickened. Hy-Lo stood up and cleared his throat. Della shot him a quick unsteady glance but kept moving. I looked at my father and his mouth was hanging open.
Della was also wrapped in a robe. Pink and white terrycloth patched in noticeable places hung open in order to accommodate the child that was growing inside her. Her hair was pulled back in a messy bun that had not seen a Saturday wash 'n press appointment in over a month.
She knelt down beside Glenna's mother and coaxed her with soft words, until Pinky raised herself up from the pavement and pulled her robe closed around her body. They sidestepped the clothes that littered the ground, making their way up the steps and into apartment number A5.
Our apartment had seen its own days of wrath. The white kitchen wall was tinged yellow in spots where no amount of scrubbing could completely lift the bloodstains away. That was the night Hy-Lo had come home from work early and found Della chatting on the phone, the sink piled high with dishes and the food still sitting in cold pots on the stove. There were few words passed between them before he hauled off and slapped her, breaking the vessels in her nose and splattering her blood, thick and red, across the wall.
But for the moment apartment A5 was quiet and would be a place for Pinky to sit and cry.
My father laughed at their backs as they walked inside. A loud, long laugh that chilled me and I shivered. He had a can of beer in his hand, his fifth for the day. He tilted it up to his mouth and finished it in one long swallow. He never looked at me, not directly, but he knew I was watching him and that my young eyes were filled with disgust.
I blinked back that summer and saw that the old woman was staring angrily at me. "Fucking bitch!" she yelled and then gave me the finger before bending over to show me her behind. "Kiss my ass!" she screamed.
I moved on, feeling more insulted by the long-ago laughter of my father than the revolting invitation from the old woman.
Reprinted from The Warmest December by Bernice L. McFadden by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2001 by Bernice McFadden. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
What People are Saying About This
Riveting. I am as impressed by its structural strength as by the searing and expertly imagined scenes.
Reading Group Guide
Q: How important are race and gender to the story in The Warmest December?
Q: While Hy-Lo is directly responsible for the failure of Kenzie's first romance (with Mousy at camp), can he be blamed for the demise of her other relationships in the novel--with Jonas and with William?
Q: Is the author's extensive description of the changes that take place to Sam and Mable's Fochs Boulevard neighborhood symbolic to Kenzie's own transformation from girl to young woman? Why or why not?
Q: At Gwenyth's funeral, only her ex-daughter in law, Evelyn, speaks when all present are asked if they have anything to say about Gwenyth. Was Evelyn's speech appropriate? Was it fair?
Q: In attempting to explain the reasons for Hy-Lo's actions to Kenzie, Dianne cites alcoholism as a cause. "You have to understand though, Kenzie, that Gwenyth was like you and me. Like Hy-Lo and his brothers. . . . I mean she was an alcoholic, and all of her actions stemmed from her disease ... just like ours ... just like your dad's." Do you agree with Dianne's assessment? Can Kenzie's actions be fairly compared to Hy-Lo's? To Gwenyth's? Why or why not?
Q: When Kenzie goes to visit her grandmother Gweneth's old apartment, she notes that "The superintendents just kept repainting the walls, coating the memory of the previous tenants away forever, reinventing the space for the new people and the memories they brought. That's the way life was. Ongoing, ever changing, with a fresh coat of paint." How does this assessment relate to the story? Do you agree with Kenzie?
Q: When Kenzie at last questions why Della stayed with Hy-Lo all those years, Della explains that it was so her children would have the things in her upbringing that she did not. In your opinion, did Della make the right choice or would Kenzie and Malcolm have been better off had Della left Hy-Lo.
Q: Della identifies Hy-Lo's reaction to the death of Malcolm as selfishness. Do you agree or disagree with her assessment?
Q: Near the end of the novel, Kenzie tells her father that "I know why you were who you were. It's the same reason why I am who I am." Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
Q: As the novel closes, while Kenzie is able to forgive Hy-Lo, Della is not. Is Kenzie doing the right thing? Is Della? Can both of them be correct?
SOURCE: Discussion questions provided courtesy of Penguin Putnam.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
What I liked most about this book, is how the one thing she hated most....is what she grew to love and crave, despite her own upbringing. The one person she hated most...she became dependent upon for her own survival. Alcoholism is a deadly virus that recycles itself within the fruits that people bare.
The Warmest December is an emotional book about one woman's healing after surviving a childhood lived with alcoholic parents. Not only do her parents drink, but her father is physically abusive and leaves physical and emotional scars on the main character, Kenzie and her brother. As a reader, I felt for Kenzie, but was angry with her mother for not leaving when she had the support of Kenzie's grandmother. McFadden grabs the reader's attention and maintains it throughout the novel with an effective use of time shifts. Not only does the reader find out about the main character's past but also their current conflicts. This book describes a serious subject with an element of hope for the future.
This one was about letting go and breaking cycles. This book starts with a young woman¿s hospital visit to the bedside of her dying father. As Kenzie Lowe takes this journey to see Hyman ¿Hy-lo¿ Lowe, she also takes a stroll down memory lane. However this walk is a very painful one.She remembers a life of physical, emotional and mental abuse at the hands of her alcoholic father. She remembers how his alcoholism ravaged her childhood, and subsequently her adulthood. She remembers her mother Delia and her brother Malcolm¿s suffering, which was in concert with her own. As she remembers, she questions herself as to why she is at this monster¿s bedside, and why she keeps returning there.At the beginning of the story, I was sure that Kenzie came to ensure that Hy-Lo was really dead, especially since she had been praying for his death since she was 5 years old. But at the end, it was clear that she was not taking pleasure in his slow descent to death¿s door. It was hard for Kenzie to look at the man that she has hated for so long, but I guess she came to confront her demons. So it was an opportunity for her to get some closure and possibly some answers. It was powerful and heart wrenching. I hate alcoholism!I was struck at how Kenzie and her family seemed to have moved on, but they really had not moved on. They were still held hostage by powerful memories and they were fighting a battle against enslavement by the same demons that haunted her father. We were given a glimpse into Hy-lo¿s childhood, but I was only moved slightly. This man terrorized his family and I didn¿t want to forgive him for that. But I cannot deny that learning about Hy-lo¿s childhood and his abuse did have an effect. I can acknowledge that studies shows that victims of abuse often become abusers. So he was only perpetuating what he learned and what was done to him. I do wish the author had given Hy-lo a moment to voice his feelings. But maybe a lesson that the author was trying to impart is that we have to make our own closure and take control of our own lives despite what others may do to us. I hope that seeing Hy-lo¿s feet gave Kenzie¿s feet freedom to go somewhere that she could finally find peace and hopefully happiness.I give this book four starts because book was very real and gave a moving account of how insidious generational curses can be. I admit that I wanted a happier ending, but I applaud the author for keeping this book real and consistent. I also applaud her for tackling such a painful subject with brutal honesty. The lesson that I took from this book is that the journey to forgiveness is a step at a time. It¿s an inner struggle, but it can be done, a step at a time.
I really liked this book. Bernice L. McFadden has a great writing style. This was a book that I had a hard time putting down. It teaches a good lesson about empathy and forgiveness. I would definitely recommend this book to others.
The Warmest December is an intense, sad story but not without hope. The story is told by Kenzie, the daughter of an alcoholic, violent father and a mother who drinks to relieve the pain of his beatings and violence. Kenzie and her brother, Malcolm, are victims of sadistical behavior on the part of their father and the mother's inability to leave him for a better life. As an adult, Kenzie is an alcoholic, and as she sits by her dying father's bedside, tells us of her childhood and growing up in the dysfunctional family. She tries to make sense of the past and find understanding. The ray of hope is joining Alcoholics Anonymous so that she is the one who breaks the cycle of drinking and violence.
I am so pleased to be introduced to Bernice L. McFadden through this book. While the alcoholism and domestic abuse of the story is horrendous, McFadden's use of language and story-telling is skilled and artful, consistent from beginning to end. The characters are utterly believable, both visually and conversationally, and you find yourself living in this family. Kenzie's redemption and the reconciliation with her father takes the entire book and the reader is left with the hope that her life becomes productive and satisfying. There is no sing-songy, happily-ever-after final page, though, but through Kenzie's empathetic journey, you feel that she's come to a positive place in her life and thinking.
This was a very raw, powerful, and emotional read. It moves back and forth in time between the childhood of Kenzie, who grew up with alcoholism and abuse, and her present-day struggle, as an adult, to reconcile with her past and her own alcoholism. The writing transports the reader into the horrifying world of addiction and abuse, and honestly captures how it is perceived by, and affects, children. Nothing is held back or watered down, and in places it hits you right in the gut, just the way great writing is supposed to. It was impossible to put down, even when it felt like too much to bear.
Amazing reading experience. This story is real, raw, and healing. The main character and narrator, Kenzie, grows up through the retelling of her life-long abuse and the unbelievable healing she goes through during her abuser's final days.
On the surface, if you've read Dorothy Allison's "Bastard out of Carolina", Saphire's "Push", even Alice Walker's "The Color Purple", then you know this story. It is a story of the tragic consequences of growing up in an alcoholic abusive family with a father/husband who can only be described as sadistic. But it is also a story about hope and forgiveness and truth. Bernice L. McFadden is a gifted writer with a penchant for dialogue and, despite the fact that I didn't find enough new in this unfortunately age-old story, she did keep me turning the pages because I believed in her characters. I wanted/needed to know how it would end for them. Ms. McFadden didn't disappoint.
A very good book about a very dark subject. The story line rang so true that I found myself wondering if the author had been abused. The movement back and forth in time was very effective in telling the story.
This book is a reissue of a novel first published in 2001. It tells the story of a bright, talented African American girl whose life is (almost) destroyed by domestic abuse and violence (her father's) and alcoholism (her father's, her mother's and her own). The book shifts back and forth in time between the present, when the narrator is compulsively visiting her hospitalized and comatose father's deathbed, and the past, when the narrator recalls family events which center (almost)exclusively around drinking and violence. Although the book is dark and sad, it is also gripping and ends on a note of understanding and hope for the future. I recommend it highly.This edition of the novel, issued by Akashic Books, is marred by the inclusion of a gratuitous, self-serving and wholly unnecessary "introduction" by the infamous James Frey. It should not have been included!
"The Warmest December" is a novel of vignettes spanning the lifetime of an abusive, alcoholic father/husband ("Hyman") and how his abuse affects, and destroys, everyone around him, specifially, the narrator/daughter, Kenzie. The book flashes back from the present day, where Kenzie is watching her father die in a hospital from his alcoholism-related ailments, to her childhood and early teen years. This is one of the bleakest, most violent novels I have ever read ~ each flashback is more horrific than the last, and one even including the severe torture of a cat. It seems Hyman's violence had no barriers whatsoever. After many of these segments, at the very end, Kenzie immediately switches from a place of hate to forgiveness when she learns a bit of Hyman's past. This felt very tacked on and false and it was very hard to believe that the angels flew in, so to speak, right at Hyman's final hours. There are reflections on how alcoholic behavior creates more alcoholic behavior in each successive generation, but I do not think it was that well explored, or believable. It was like he drank, so the wife drank, then I drank. There seemed no explanation above and beyond that. Ms. McFadden writes well and her style is engaging, but these folks were just really difficult to read about and the ephinanies at the end too quick and unrealistic. Somehow, it all just never felt that "real" like a book on this subject matter should.
This book pulls you in immediately, and I read it quickly. Somehow, it came up short of what I expected. Perhaps it was because I felt like the entire tale took place inside of Kenzie's mind, and never really got far from it. It seems obvious that the author has had at least some experience with alcoholism, and those descriptions are very believable. I felt that the ending should have been more developed, too, and was left wondering what happened to the rest of the characters in the story. I would still recommend it, though, and I will try reading one of the author's other books to compare to this one; she is a very talented writer.
This domestic horror story is in the style of many Oprah book club selections which recount tales of childhood abuse overcome. However, the author¿s victory over her past comes so late in the book, and the abuse so torturously, repetitively recounted that the book becomes a pretty hard slog. This is not to take anything away from McFadden¿s abilities as an author as she lyrically weaves her tale back and forth between her past abuse and the resultant bruised realities of her present. Still, it takes until the very end of the book before McFadden finally confirms evidence that she is merely the latest in a vicious family cycle of pain and degradation. Only then can McFadden forgive her father, and, we hope, move beyond her tortured past.
Spoilers:I wanted to love this book and was thrilled to receive it for review. The introduction by James Frey was more of a deterrent than an enticement, given his deceptive history, so I started off with my teeth a little on edge. I'm not sure why "The Warmest December" never quite drew me in or made me care about this particular story of abuse and alcoholism. A work of fiction, not memoir, the main characters were never clearly drawn. It just did not seem to speak from the heart or completely gel. I did not like anyone in this book from the Grandmothers (I loathed the maternal Grandmother), to the Mother, who had ice water in her veins, certainly not the Father, to Kenzie or her brother, and was unable to picture anything except their bruises. No physical traits or personal habits made me feel close to Kenzie, the protagonist, or to empathize with her Mother, Delia. Ironically, the only characters with detailed descriptions--overly detailed at that--were two male characters with menial roles in the story line: one at camp and another an old friend of Delia's. And then, the descriptions were odd and far-reaching. One was the "color of sandalwood and nutmeg." That doesn't conjure up a color for me as I don't really understand how one person could be both; they are totally different and sandalwood to me seems more of a scent than a color. I have no idea what Kenzie looked like, but I know how some some childhood friend smelled, wore his hear, smiled, the clothes he wore, spoke, etc. That kind of detail would have gone a long way with the main characters--aside from her Dad's chin hairs growing. Perhaps Ms. McFadden could have used her adjectives more prudently if she didn't use them all to describe one person.Addressing the topic of alcoholism, I don't agree with the lesson in the book that she had to forgive her Father to stay sober, and it really annoyed me that she kept going to visit him. But hey, her program. Also annoying was the fact that she didn't have one single memory of a nice moment in her entire life with her Mother or her Father until she starts to forgive him. None. Not one. None. But she's living with her Mother. And visiting her Father. I found myself dreading reading this book which speaks volumes. It was repetitive, not especially well written, and never really went anywhere. If you are going to write of grossly murdering animals and beating people senseless, give the story a soul. Recently I read Rena's Promise, a graphic, brutal account of the holocaust and found it to be totally mesmerizing, because you loved Rena. The book made you love Rena. I wish I could have loved Kenzie, but I just didn't.
I loved this book. I got so caught up in her story that I did not want to put the book down. It makes your cringe and want to cry but it was a very touching story. It is a story of alcoholism and abuse that shows how it effects an entire family for generations.
Even though the storyline was sad - it was a wonderful story....It's about a woman that has grown up hating her alcoholic father. The story unfolds describing the abuse that her family suffered day in and day out at the hands of the father - abuse that was so real, the mother and the daughter become alcoholics themselves. This book was very disturbing to me and at the same time, I couldn't put it down. I can't imagine having to go through life the way Kenzie had. Ms. McFadden gave me insight on what it is like to be the wife/daughter of an alcoholic and the reason(s) for staying in that relationship. An important lesson was reiterated, "Forgiveness is good for the soul."
Brilliantly written and insightful. Bernice McFadden is one of the best story tellers.
The Warmest December - POWERFUL! GRIPPING! Entering your heart without hesitation, Bernice L. McFadden takes you through A daughter’s alcoholic family life, from present to past, to present, finding a forgiveness that tears at your skin, demanding to be there, owning its residency. A must read for anyone who takes real literature seriously. McFadden’s exemplary writing and compelling story will hold onto you until you turn the last page - I felt every last word, from beginning to end.
I thought this book was very good. It kept me intrigued by the telling of Kenzie's life and the really bad childhood she had. I wish Malcolm made it though. The book made me think of my own childhood and it taught me that I need to forgive in order to move on.
I was shopping at a bargin outlet and found this book on sell for $5.00. I've heard of Bernice McFadden, but never read anything by her. This book made me cry, angry, joyful, and laugh. It is a great read and I highly recommend it.