This has been one crazy week. So crazy that I finished a book on Monday and haven't had a chance to review it yet. That never happens – I always review books the day I finish them, or at the latest the next day. Meanwhile, I finished Jump at the Sun on Monday, brought it to NY with me on Tuesday to review while I was there overnight, left it next to me on the sofa last night to review, and am just now getting a chance to review it. That, for me, is the sign of a very busy week.
So, here finally is my review. Jump at the Sun, by Kim McLarin, is about Grace Jefferson, an African-American woman living an upper middle-class life outside Boston with her husband and two young daughters. She is trained as a sociologist, but when the book opens, she's a stay-at-home mom to her daughters, and quite unfulfilled. Jump at the Sun is about Grace's ambivalence about being a mother and the sacrifice, loss of identity, and claustrophobia that often accompanies motherhood.
Grace's grandmother Royal grew up in Mississipi and always yearned for a better life. She had her first child, Mattie (Grace's mother), when she was still a teenager, and several children after that. Royal was an selfish abandoner – she left her children on multiple occasions, and as an adult would use them for their money and disappear. Mattie, in reaction to her own mother, was the opposite: a fiercely devoted mother who sacrificed her own happiness and satisfaction to protect her children.
Grace, who grew up with very little, is unhappily living the suburban American dream, swinging somwhere between the poles of her mother and grandmother. In Jump at the Sun, McLarin explores Grace's deep conflict between her love for her children and her desire simply to be free of them. Her descriptions of parenthood are unflinchingly honest:
[T]o have a child is to understand the impulse toward child abuse. As a parent, you will say and do things to your children you would never say and do to anyone else – because society would not allow it; because no one can rattle you the way your children can; because from adults you can always walk away. But you cannot walk away from children; children reveal you to yourself. So if you are a decent person, the kind who walks instead of drives to save the environment and who gives to the United Way, you will be surprised at the visceralness of your reactions sometimes. You will be horrified at the way you behave.
This book is full of keen observations about modern parenthood and suburban life. The sections about Mattie and Royal's lives are also fascinating – how different they were from Grace's, and yet how similar in some ways. McLarin writes:
For my grandmother, to be a mother was also to be a slave, and a slave she refused to be. So she walked away; the pendulum swung to its apex. Then my mother had children of her own and, in her woundedness, ended up walking away from herself. THe pendulum swung again. We wre a rootless people, reaping the whirlwind still; my mistake had been to believe that because I was blessed and beyond, the beneficiary of so much sacrifiice and so much pain, I was also somehow exempt.
That's basically the theme of Jump at the Sun (though my revealing it here doesn't detract from the power and pleasure of this book).
I strongly recommend Jump at the Sun. McLarin is a smart, observant writer, and while I couldn't necessarily identify with Grace's actions, I could certainly relate to some of the challenges in her life.
Well hello there, FTC – you're still here? I think I requested this book as a review copy a few years (!) ago (that's how bad my TBR pile is). So I will go ahead and thank William Morrow/Harper Collins for the copy and let my readers know that this one was a freebie.