Capturing all the rueful irony and racial ambivalence of small-town Mississippi in the late 1950s, Melinda Haynes’ celebrated novel is a wholly unforgettable exploration of family, identity, and redemption. Mother of Pearl revolves around twenty-eight-year-old Even Grade, a black man who grew up an orphan, and Valuable Korner, the fifteen-year-old white daughter of the town whore and an unknown father. Both are passionately determined to discover the precious things neither experienced as children: human connection, enduring commitment, and, above all, unconditional love. A startlingly accomplished mixture of beauty, mystery, and tragedy, Mother of Pearl marks the debut of an extraordinary literary talent.
I’m not a big Oprah Winfrey fan, but I will say this: The Oprah Book Club sure picked a lot of great novels. Mother of Pearl is one of those reads. I chose it based solely on the Oprah seal of approval on the cover.
What Melinda Haynes accomplished with her debut novel is nothing short of brilliance. There is a subtle undertone of sadness running through this story set in the deep south during the 1950s. Lives are never going to be what those who live them hope they’d be; expectations—unless negative—are usually unmet. Valuable Korner, a white girl and 15-year-old daughter of the town whore, finds her life intersecting with that of Even Grade, a black man just trying to live the life handed to him. Family secrets are unearthed, leaving young Valuable struggling against awful truths from the generations that came before.
This is a story of redemption. Love leads to commitment after tragedy, and empty lives find fulfillment. Haynes manages to pull this off without that sappy feeling. This is one of those books I have kept on my shelf long after reading. It is worth your time.
Grab a copy of Mother of Pearl