Excerpt from The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Confessions of Frannie Langton

by Sara Collins

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins X
The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins
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  • First Published:
    May 2019, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2020, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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Then I'd smooth out my brown calico, walk round to the back. Everything, all the way to where the river cut north, black, slow and mud-clogged, belonged to Langton. I'd sit right on one of Miss-bella's campeachy chairs, listen to the floorboards creak, lift my own arms out of the sun the way I'd seen the white ladies do, push my toes down to set the chair rocking. Just close my eyes and wait for the day to crawl towards noon.

Before they took me to live there, I only ever did that in my head.


Then one afternoon Miss-bella told Phibbah to fetch me, and Phibbah found me in the lower field with the third gang, where we'd been set with our little baskets of dung to throw into the cane holes. She took me through the cookhouse and washed my feet in the mop bucket, her kerchief fluttering like a yellow moth over her eyes and the heat from her grill slapping at my legs. She spent a long minute grousing how Miss-bella wanted her enemies near, which had given her the work of chasing niggerlings all morning, and then a short minute dragging me inside. I asked what Miss-bella wanted me for, but Phibbah was caked in the kind of spite that will not hear.

Miss-bella was in the room that belonged to her, and looked like her also. Both covered in silks and velvets, smooth and cool as lizards. A room so vast I was struck mute when I passed into it, and so wide I felt it was gobbling me whole.

Kiii! This place endless like outside, I thought, but with a roof over you and windows that decide how much light can come in!

Miss-bella sat in the middle on her stool, skirts spilling all around her. I might have thought her a spider in a web, but with her small, shining eyes, she put me more in mind of a fly. She had a pitcher of goat's milk set in front of her on a low table, which also had bits of johnnycake strewn across it as if put out for birds, or rat-catching. She picked out a piece of johnnycake. I took a step, which clanged like a bell and frightened me to a halt. There she was, rising towards me on an ocean of black satin. She had to reach for me and pull me all the rest of the way into the room. I remember now there was a looking-glass in that room, right behind her. It was the first time I'd seen myself properly – there I was, stamping towards myself, like a wild creature, my own face darting about on the surface, like a fish I couldn't catch. I got another fright so I stopped again, had to be tugged once more.

The johnnycake had cooled and the milk was warm. Both must have been sitting out for a long time before she sent for me.

'So,' she said. 'You are Frances.'

I made a curtsy.

'It's the name I gave you myself.'

That startled me. I hadn't known Miss-bella to take any interest in me before that very moment. I lost my curtsy and almost slipped and fell. I didn't know how to answer except to thank her. She shook her arm to remind me of the johnnycake she was holding. By then I'd grabbed myself a hunk in each hand from the table, but I took that piece straight from her own hand with my teeth.

She puffed out her cheeks, then plunged her fingers into her mouth as if to lick them clean. 'You are a little savage.'

I bit my tongue.

'It is my husband who has decided you should live in this house, Frances.'

'Yes, missus,' I mumbled around the bite I was trying to gulp down before she took any of it away.

'What you and I have in common is that neither of us had any say in the matter.'

'I happy to be here, missus.'

'Well. Seems I must be some sort of mother to you now.'

What to say to that? I never knew my mother but here was the plain fact looking us both in the eye. Miss-bella was white and a very high lady. None such as herself had ever birthed the likes of me in the history of our hot little part of the earth. Brown and thick and strong as a horse I was then, though, being a mulatta, I was paler than any of the other blacks on that estate. With a great frizzled mess on top of my head, not like her own pale hair, which was so feathery the breeze stirred it and lifted it and played with it while it shunned mine.

Excerpted from The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins. Copyright © 2019 by Sara Collins. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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