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
    May 2020, 384 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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Let me tell you, I saw Phibbah whipped for all manner of petty things: whenever a piece of china-ware went missing, after she let one of Miss-bella's teacups slip and break, once when she was late bringing in the salted cod at breakfast, but never once did I see her whipped for talking back. I asked her about it once. 'That the only entertainment the woman ever gets,' she replied.

When you look back at anything, time caves into itself, like dirt running into a fresh hole. I see the three of us – the women of Paradise – like figures etched in glass. And it's as if no time has passed, as if that girl knelt at Miss-bella's feet, blinked, then woke up to discover she was the Mulatta Murderess.

From where I crouched, I could see out to the river. Oh, it would be a miracle to feel something soft as that water against my skin again, though I'd settle for lying on fresh-cut grass, or even just the chance to rub my fingers along a fresh-laundered shift. The air was sharp with the smell of cane trash burning out near the river, and the orange oil Phibbah used for polishing. 'Go on in now, girl,' Miss-bella said. 'Fetch some of that pineapple tart you made yesterday. And is there any orangeade?'

Phibbah set the jug by the door. I'd kept my head down all that time, scraping at dirt under Miss-bella's nails with the toe-picker, lifting first one foot, then the other. Heart still hard as a drum, but the rest of me gone soft as butter in a skillet. It was an ivory-handled picker I used, as if that could magic some dainty into Miss-bella's feet. I lifted one out onto the towel beside her chair, to dry, and she and I both leaned back and admired it. Like it was marble in a museum. We used to pretend those feet were pretty as the teacups, same way we pretended the teapot wasn't half full of rum.

She wasn't done complaining. 'I'm so tired of forever staring at these same old no-account hills.'

'We could set out front, sometime,' Phibbah said, 'if you wasn't so stubborn.'

'Oh, no. I couldn't.'

'Get a view of the sea.'

'That's precisely why I could not.' She flicked her a look, sharp, over the shoulder. 'But you'd know about that.'

'About what?'

'Wanting a thing so much you can't bear looking at it.'

Phibbah stabbed and stabbed with the fan, murdering air. 'I thought it was the hills bothering you. Now you say it's the sea.'

Miss-bella laughed into her cup. Then she paused, like she was giving thought. 'Seems I can look neither ahead of me nor behind.'

'Well, then, you can' make no palabber about sitting where you put you-self.'

She waved her hand. 'Do you really think I chose to put myself anywhere on this estate?' We watched her slurp at her tea, set it aside. 'If only my father or my husband would see sense, I'd be down there. On the next fast clipper to Bristol.'

Manso swung past us with his tin pail, crying, 'Sook! Sook!' calling in the cows, lifting his feet across the yard like the mad rooster that had only one rolling eye. Near the shed he shook salt into little mounds. The cows shambled over and licked at it with slow tongues.

To this day, I remember what happened then, because what happened then changed my life, for better and for worse. Miss-bella closed her eyes, rested her book on her knees, creeping her fingers across the leather cover. I saw a D nestled into it. A breeze tussling with the pages. Manso whistling his commands to the cows. I>Come in, come in. The book lay there, just another thing I wanted. Pages white as peeled apples. White as cleaned sheets. There came a wildness in me. How can I explain it? All went quiet, like when an owl flies overhead. Not even the ticking of the fan. I reached up for it, my hand flooding her lap, then realized what I had done, jerked back, snagged myself on Miss-bella's skirt, scrabbled to my feet. She leaped up also. The book tumbled off her lap and into the water. My stomach pitched, like something tossed onto an ocean.

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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