Desert Isle Keeper
In the Face of the Sun
In the Face of the Sun is an engrossing family saga filled with heartbreak and love, victory, forgiveness, and loss, and a wonderful character study of several unforgettable women.
It is 1968, and a pregnant Frankie Saunders is leaving Chicago, abandoning an abusive marriage to the violent, controlling Jackson with the help of a ride from her Aunt Daisy. Aunt Daisy has been the family scandal since before Frankie could talk, but she’s fearless and has a cherry-red-apple-colored Mustang. One of the first things she does is offer Frankie a joint, and when Jackson comes after them, Daisy backs him down with nothing more than some sharp words and the pointed tip of her trusty switchblade.
Frankie finds herself in Daisy’s Mustang, headed along Route 66 to California, using Daisy’s Green Book as a guide to find safe places for them to stay, and being driven by a young white hippie in a daishiki named Tobey Garfunkel who’s known Daisy from the time he was a kid. While Frankie hopes to reunite with her mother, Daisy hopes to hash out long-ago hurts with her sister before returning to Chicago. During the trip, which includes a few faces from Daisy’s long past, Frankie comes to know her formerly distant aunt and surmount her ambivalent feelings about her relationship with Jackson, gain nerve, and develop a friendship with Tobey. She soon learns that Jackson is still on her tail – and that Daisy has plans to settle a long-ago score.
Back in 1928, we learn that Daisy comes from a long line of formidable woman. Her older sister Henrietta bobs her hair and rebels against their distant father, and Daisy works double shifts to help provide for their mother, who has been left bedbound and unresponsive after a heart attack and stroke. While Daisy is convinced her mother can be cured if they get her to the right doctor, both Henrietta and their father have begun to give up hope, deciding that her case is a sign of mental illness and she needs to go to a care home. Daisy and Henrietta have jobs as chambermaids at the new Hotel Sommerville, a glamorous place which caters to Black film royalty and the social upper crust. Daisy is inspired by her love of W. E. B. Du Bois to become a journalist, and spends all of her spare time journaling and learning how to craft articles. Working at the Sommerville puts Daisy in a prime position to pick up on plenty of scoops, and she finds herself supplying Harry Belmont with items for his gossip column, which is published in the California Eagle. While Hollywood-loving Henrietta is courted by talented Isaiah, the family’s new boarder, Daisy begins to fall for the suave society swain and architect Malcolm Barnes – who is dating white starlet Veronica Fontaine, whose death will rip Daisy and Henrietta’s worlds apart.
Bryce has written a beautiful, powerful family saga in In the Face of the Sun. Daisy is filled with spirit and refuses to be limited, and you can see clearly how she develops into the seasoned, smart, well-rounded woman we see in the 1968 chapters. Henrietta is even more fiery than her sister, and the two of them are a fully-rounded balanced pair, bumping through Hollywood, dealing with deep scars (the racism that killed Daisy and Henrietta’s brother, Clifford) going on wild adventures (a raid on a speakeasy on Brown Broadway) and realising with their ambitions and dreams.
Daisy is such a phenomenal, formidable heroine, the kind of woman who will defend her niece without a second thought and can rattle off an early routine from a young Richard Pryor from memory. Frankie is much more timid, but still manages to spring forth as an original personality, and Henrietta is a total force of nature. I loved pacifist Tobey, whose presence on the trip is not advertised in the blurb but who makes a companionable third for them. Both timelines are equally compelling, with complex, imperfect characters and well-researched time periods.
The A- is really down to the ending; learning what happened to Veronica and who took the blame makes sense, but I couldn’t believe that this would result in someone basically ruining another person’s life via the sin of omission, leaving them to feel years of burning resentment.
But In the Face of the Sun is a good tale, a strong tale that balances family drama, a murder mystery, a true-to-life reflection of Black America in the twenties and late sixties, several love stories and a road trip story. Those are a lot of story points to balance, and the book does so with aplomb.
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Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier