Thursday, February 8, 2018

"As Good as True"

Cheryl Reid grew up in Decatur, Alabama. She studied art and writing at Agnes Scott College and earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Georgia State University. She lives with her husband, three children, and a rescue dog called Django in Decatur, Georgia.

Reid applied the Page 69 Test to As Good as True, her first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Papa hung his head. He looked pale and weak and old.

“I’m not going anywhere.” I held the bag and felt the ridges of money beneath the canvas. There was the house, the store, bank accounts, and money squirreled away. All of it was profit from my toil as well as Elias’s. I would stay and I would have my share. I would have my daughter to myself.

Papa coughed. When he caught his breath, he cast his eyes upward at the light coming through the window, like he was praying in church. With a closed fist, he rapped the desk with his knuckles—a nervous tic he had when a customer had gone on too long and Papa did not know how to end the conversation. “I’ve bought you three days from Ivie. Get yourself in order. The Nassads want you gone.”

“What have I done so bad as this, Papa?”

“I don’t know what to believe. That’s between you and God.” His eyes were cold and golden-brown like the river shallows in winter. Looking into them made me feel like a stone sinking.

I listened for a trace of love in his voice and looked for a sign of gentleness across his face. My father had never said he loved me. I’d taken it for granted in the past, but he was telling me to go and I was not certain.

“What harm is there in a man delivering mail?” My knuckles grew white from my grip on the canvas bag.

“He is Thea’s son.”

Papa had watched them, Gus and Orlando, playing by the river, shooting marbles and swimming, throwing rocks at geese. Papa drove to Nashville in the middle of the night to retrieve the boys from the train station after their failed attempt to stow away to the World’s Fair.

At some point, Aunt Elsa had told my father, “Anna needs to play with white girls,” and then I was no longer allowed to join my brother and Orlando. But no white girls invited me to play at their homes, and no white girl would come to Mounds to play with the motherless daughter of immigrants. No Riverton mother would think of allowing it.

“Are you going to take their side over mine?” I asked.
On page 69, Anna asks, “What harm is there in a man delivering mail?” A question that we can easily answer from our present day perspective, but one that is the catalyst for the terrible chain of events in As Good as True.

Indeed, Anna’s stand to help Orlando is a noble one, but the bigotry and violence that she has tolerated has also consumed her, and she becomes part of the problem. This passage shows a major conflict within Anna—how does she sort out the truth and reconcile her misdeeds?

This page also illustrates the loneliness that Anna has endured since childhood. Having lost her mother at a young age, Anna wants nothing more than to be loved, and yet she has lived in isolation—in her family, in her marriage, in her town. As an an Arab immigrant’s child, she’s lived on the cusp of the white and the black communities, never truly belonging to either. This vulnerability set her up for abuse, and in this scene with her father, where love and protection are conflated, we see Anna’s terrible option, one that many women have faced: pretend things are fine or suffer the consequences.
Anna’s denials have no purchase with Papa, and he forces her to face reality. In some ways, Papa is glad that Elias is dead. He was a brutal husband to Anna. Papa feels anger and frustration because Elias’s violence has stained his daughter. Now, Papa wants Anna to be practical and get out of harm’s way. Even if he can’t say it, his love is palpable, making the scene all the more fraught.

Defiant to the end, Anna remains caught up in her own head. She wants desperately to stay for her daughter and go on as if nothing has occurred. In this scene, it becomes clear that tough choices await Anna in the coming days: she can run away, or stay and fight for what she loves, come what may.
Learn more about As Good as True by Cheryl Reid.

Coffee with a Canine: Cheryl Reid & Django.

--Marshal Zeringue