This is the author’s second novel. I read her first, River, Cross My Heart, some years ago and only vaguely recall it. As I started with Stand The Storm, the writing style is what I recalled. Like the first novel, it is a grounded narrative with an even paced tempo. As a reader I’m kept on the outside of the narrative…never drawn in. The story remains grounded in an African American perspective in that the survival and growth of the characters lays in what goes on amongst them and between them and the White gaze is only anecdotal and supportive for moving the story along. I think for me, not certain, that it was the historian John Blassingame who spoke to this being key to our survival in detail.
The characters are a family of needlefolk…Sewing Annie, her daughter and son, Ellen and Gabriel…extended members of the family Daniel Joshua and Mary. The setting is urban life in the 1800s with bordering plantations in Washington D.C., Virginia, and Maryland…a setting when compared to life further south affords a slight, slight more measure of physical movement for enslaved and free Africans of the time period which Clarke utilizes as a support for the development of the story.
The location of the novel centers around the back rooms of a tailoring shop where Gabriel has become the chief tailor. Gabriel and his family are owned by Jonathon Ridley and Ridley owns the shop that he purchased from a Jewish tailor who Gabriel apprencticed under. Aaron Ridley, the owner’s nephew oversees the shops but is less concerned with its daily runnings and the people who do the work than he is about hobnobbing at the local eateries…in turn, affording Sewing Annie, Gabriel, and others a great deal of personal freedom…but freedom that do not squander as is the focus of improving their lot and the lot of others when opportunities are present, stay at the forefront of their minds and doings. Sewing Annie and Gabriel have purchased their own freedom by burning the midnight oil sewing military uniforms.
I’m just under half-way through this book and the extended family is growing to include a new woman freshly escaped from slavery along with 8 children.