From cherished memories of childhood weekends with Nana to the reality of the year she spent “ladysitting,” Lorene Cary journeys through stories of their time together and five generations of their African American family. Weaving a narrative of her complicated relationship with Nana―a fiercely independent and often stubborn woman whose family fled the Jim Crow South and who managed her own business until 100―Cary captures the ruptures, love, and forgiveness that can occur in family as she bears witness to her grandmother’s vibrant life.
If Sons, Then Heirs (2012)
Whether writing about herself or imaginary people, author Lorene Cary takes readers on achingly real journeys, first of regret and ultimately of redemption. Twenty years ago she penned Black Ice, her seminal memoir about her painful experiences at an exclusive new England boarding school. Since 1998 she has been busy as the founder of Art Sanctuary, the City of Brotherly Love's cultural movement's haven for talent. Now Cary returns to bookstores with her third novel. It is, in a word, a triumph. With If Sons, Then Heirs, the writer pulls off a rare feat: a juicy family saga filled with historical and cultural context, tied together with the assured hand of a literary craftsman.
As she did with her 1995 Underground Rail road-themed debut novel, The Price of a Child, Cary presents an ordinary Black family facing a hell of a moral dilemma. Like many of our families, the Needham clan is scattered between North and South. When the book opens we meet Rayne, a thirtyish construction manager who is thriving in Philadelphia. He keeps close ties to his great
grandmother Selma, who is well into her seventies and
fighting to hold on to their ancestral South Carolina land. It's a noble battle, but time and money are not on her side. Through a byzantine southern law, a White family may have a chance to buy Selma's beloved home, which has belonged to the Needham's since the Civil War. Don't think this is a simple tale in black and white. Even Selma has her share of secrets.
The story gets deeper after she reluctantly reaches out to Rayne for his help. It's a tough call for the sweet Selma because she knows that the Needham's official papers will reveal that everything is not as it appears. And that's just the beginning. From there Cary sends Selma, Rayne, and the reader on an emotional ride with one shocking Dickensian twist after the next. It's a trip many of you will find delightful, and while Rayne's, Selma's
and the author's choices will stir debate, it's a trek you won't forget.
-Patrik Henry Bass for Essence (May 2011)
Four women, lifelong friends, are turning 40–and what a year it is.
Roz, the perfectly controlled (and controlling) politician’s wife, is trying to keep her family together as she recovers from breast cancer and her husband runs for the biggest election of his career. Though he has strayed from her in the past, she has always been there for him–but all that is in jeopardy now that she has learned he has been sleeping with one of her three best friends.
Tam has been avoiding commitment all her life, both in an academic career that shows no sign of becoming permanent and in her sexually combustive affairs with men. But she’s ready to make some radical departures–including trying to return the interest of a sexy hunk who has more than just looks.
Ever since her husband’s early death, Arneatha has immersed herself in her work as an Episcopal priest who runs a school and several community programs. But something is turning cold and brittle inside her, and for the first time in her life she questions her faith. Her last shreds of certainty are stripped from her when she is unexpectedly thrust into the role of mother–and finds herself falling in passionate, school-girlish love with a handsome African man.
Finally there is Audrey, whose climb back from the depths of alcoholism nearly costs her her life, but brings renewal to the friends’ commitment to each other.
The Price of a Child (1996)
With Price of a Child–the story of Ginnie Pryor (cook, mistress and servant to a Virginia planter) and her struggle with slavery in 1855–Cary continues has created a work that elevates the reputation she created with Black Ice, her memoir which won her comparisons to Maya Angelou and Richard Wright. In a novel that examines the price of freedom and the value of a child’s life, Price of a Child is "a stunning achievement…a deeply engrossing story…. Cary’s impeccable research and seamless narrative carry us along" (Philadelphia Inquirer).
The Price of a Child launched the One Book One Philadelphia program in 2003. Now the book will do the same with the new One Book One Norristown initiative slated for Fall 2022.
Black Ice (1992)
In 1972 Lorene Cary, a bright, ambitious black teenager from Philadelphia, was transplanted into the formerly all-white, all-male environs of the elite St. Paul's School in New Hampshire, where she became a scholarship student in a "boot camp" for future American leaders. Like any good student, she was determined to succeed. But Cary was also determined to succeed without selling out. This wonderfully frank and perceptive memoir describes the perils and ambiguities of that double role, in which failing calculus and winning a student election could both be interpreted as betrayals of one's skin. Black Ice is also a universally recognizable document of a woman's adolescence; it is, as Houston Baker says, "a journey into selfhood that resonates with sober reflection, intelligent passion, and joyous love."