Lavina: Mary Marcus
Mary Jacob lived her life in the shadow of others. Whether she was with her father and sister or a family friend she never really accepted herself for who she was. Always trying like her sister, pleasing her father, but not always succeeding, Mary Jacob lived in the dark path of others never really finding her own light. Now, many years later she reenters her father’s home to help care for him in his final days. Their relationship seems odd at times and even strained as her sister, self-absorbed, selfish, greedy and unfeeling has requested she return to help care for their father allowing her the freedom to pursue not only another husband or man but her own dreams and wants.
Jack Long is hoping to find a way to understand and develop some type of relationship with Mary Jacob. His older daughter having power of attorney is determined to rid herself of him any way she can. Nursing home, clean out his home, use all of his money and then throw him to the wind you might say. But, Mary Jacob makes a deal with her father to protect his interests and stop what her sister has already put into motion.
Mary Jacob’s voice is not the only one we hear in this novel. We hear two more. One Lavina the title of the novel a black maid who played an important part in Mary’s life since she accepted her the way she was, her awkward appearance, her way of speaking and dress. Lavina was her only ally and friend growing up in a house filled with selfishness, verbal abuse and a mother who was sick.
Billy Ray was Lavina’s son. A singer, on drugs and drinks a lot . The novel spans many decades and highlights his career. But, Billy Ray is bent on seeing and finding Mary Jacob in the present but why? As we hear the next voice: Lavina’s we flash back to the 1960’s when Martin Luther King held many protests and demonstrations. When civil rights and civil rights issues were front and center to meet Lavina as black maid who cooked, cleaned nurtured and cared for Mary Jacob and her family. As the story begins during that time period we learn more about a central and prominent figure : Dr. Martin Luther King and the real definition of racism. Lavina worked hard for may white families and helped raise their children as if they were hers. The time period the 60’s the place Louisiana.
Lavina and Mary Jacob had a special relationship that transcended beyond her being a maid and taking care of her family. Each one came to the aide of the other when anyone threatened them or created difficult situations. Lavina adored Mary Jacob and through everything including the hate, prejudice and racial tension within the Long home, as Jack and his council members met, discussed Dr. King and their true feelings were revealed, we realize that Lavina was special and Mary Jacob like her own. But, Lavina had a son named Billy Ray whose life was always in turmoil. Not really finding a place for himself anywhere he created his own persona, his own special brand as he rises to the top of the charts amid the women, drugs and alcohol that filled his world. But, within that world was Mary Jacob who his mother loved and who he was jealous of.
Added in as we take the journey back to the past we learn more about Jack Long, his true feelings for Mary Jacob, his love for her friend Van and his lack of acceptance for who she was. Finding herself at odds within her own family, Lavina provided the comfort she needed until that was taken away from her when her father banned her from the kitchen and forced her to become like the others. Remaking herself, getting a makeover, and trying to fit into his world and that of her sister and Van, did not change his perspective of her.
Both Mary Jacob and Billy Ray wanted to be loved by Lavina. He in his own way by making himself popular, singing his special song and creating a brand for himself. Each one vying for her attention and each one jealous of the other one wanting to be the primary focus in her life. But, when Billy Ray finally hit it big and was able to provide for his mother something happened that would change it all. Mary Jacob overheard her father talking with his council members and instantly she decided she would change the course of events, make sure Dr. King did not get shot and hopefully sacrifice herself. With a father who did not and never would see her for who she was or allow her to be her own person, always creating the standard and she never fitting his mold, Mary Jacob learns in a harsh and cruel scene vividly described by author Mary Marcus, another meaning of the word hate and prejudice. Not only did he hate Black people but he hated her for not being what he wanted in a daughter and hoping to turn her into a son.
When you area page 315 you will get another perspective on what Mary Jacob felt and a perfect description of Billy Ray “ like her father , was beauty itself, through the dark where he was light.”
The power of Billy Ray’s playing, his music and song brought an energy to his listeners and hypnotized them. When Dr. King was supposed to appear what happens next will shock readers as someone else is sacrificed and a murder is covered up.
his book is not just about race, but also the struggle to find one’s identity and to become accepted. There are strong themes of heartache, hate, attachment, and love. The core of the book is formed by three extraordinary characters, and cleverly gives the story three different perspectives. The history of the day is dramatically told in their own distinct voices, which brought the story to vivid life.
Lavina – A lovable character that exuded strength, and managed to carry on and care about others despite an unjust system. She loved Mary Jacob like her own child. She really added humor to the story. Living in her own shadow and never quite accepting herself as unique and special Mary Jacob’s heart and soul suffered and when Lavina was no longer her life as she knew it was over. Standing up to her father and letting him know she would no longer take his abuse was a major turning point in the story making you wonder why she even came home to care for him. Van and Mary Jacob talk about the harsh cold realities of that day when someone was killed and Dr. King was shot. His sons echo on and her voice and warmth remains in her heart as Lavina will live on forever in the heart of Mary Jacob.
Lavina made more than just a difference in Mary Jacob’s life. She taught her the true meaning of love, understanding, tolerance and joy. She helped her to understand that it was okay that she was not perfect or looked like her sister or Van. Lavina truly loved Mary Jacob whose mother was ill and would soon learn as others did the meaning of her father’s lust and betrayal. An ending that is quite powerful and two lives changed by one woman. What is the final song that Billy Ray will sing? What is next for Mary Jacob? A powerful book. A compelling story with many lessons to be learned during a time when civil rights and racial issues were in the foreground and sit-ins, protests and racial riots took place and one man tried to temper it all because: He had a dream but unfortunately someone silenced him before he could complete and fulfill it. Living in the shadow of others will Mary Jacob lift the veil and find the shining light?
Let’s Dedicate this to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders who are still trying to teach tolerance, understanding, love, promise and hope.
Fran Lewis: Reviewer