Bette Lee Crosby
Bent Pine Publishing (2014)
Reviewed by David K. McDonnell for Reader Views (08/15)
“Passing through Perfect” by Bette Lee Crosby is both delightful and sorrowful as the story of a Southern sharecropper family. The delight is in the way the story is told, with a richness of detail and description. The sorrow is in the travails faced by the family, which include tragedies experienced by many families but also much, much more. To outline the tragedies is to give away too much of the story, but members of the family are subjected to more than anyone should have to endure. The book is more about characters, relationships, and setting, than it is about plot. There is a plot, but the plot is the sequence of events and people encountered by the family.
The lead characters are Benjamin, Delia, and their son Isaac. While the story is generally told in the third person, the book includes several short chapters told in the first person, by Benjamin, Delia, and others. This puts the reader into the thoughts of the characters in a way that dialogue and description often cannot. One gets to know the characters in a deeply personal way, and the interaction of the characters, to each other and to encountered situations, is wholly realistic and believable.
The book’s setting is almost like another character in the book. The story is set in the decade or so after World War II in rural Alabama, although the family eventually migrates north to friendlier territory. The book captures the tempo of the South in the era, with the hot and dry summers, the loneliness of sharecropper life, rural work ethic, and extreme poverty. Racism is portrayed as a fact of life, accepted by all – not because it is right, but because it has always been. For example, Benjamin and Isaac are met in front of a white man’s home at one point of the story, and Benjamin is invited inside. Benjamin then walks around the house to enter through the back door. The white man asked Isaac if anyone told Benjamin that he had to enter through the back. Isaac replied: “Ain’t nobody telled me. It jest is.”
Religion is an underlying theme, not because the book is about religion but because religion is an important element in the life of nearly everyone, white and black, in the Bible Belt South. But faith is sorely tested. Benjamin mused, at one point, “I’ve got to wonder what kind of God lets a man be born to a life where he got no chance of fairness. I ain’t lied or stealed. I ain’t never caused nobody harm and I ain’t asked for one thing more than I’m deserving of, but none of that counts. I got nigger skin ‘n that’s that.”
“Passing through Perfect” by Bette Lee Crosby is perhaps, the perfect book title and indeed, is the principal theme of the book. There are times in every life, no matter how difficult, when people and events fall into place and life is as good as it ever will be. One must take full advantage and cherish the journey as one passes through such perfect times.