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Summary and book reviews of The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton

The Revisioners

by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton

The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton X
The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
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  • Published:
    Nov 2019, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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About this Book

Book Summary

Following her National Book Award–nominated debut novel, A Kind of Freedom, Margaret Wilkerson Sexton returns with this equally elegant and historically inspired story of survivors and healers, of black women and their black sons, set in the American South.

In 1925, Josephine is the proud owner of a thriving farm. As a child, she channeled otherworldly power to free herself from slavery. Now, her new neighbor, a white woman named Charlotte, seeks her company, and an uneasy friendship grows between them. But Charlotte has also sought solace in the Ku Klux Klan, a relationship that jeopardizes Josephine's family.

Nearly one hundred years later, Josephine's descendant, Ava, is a single mother who has just lost her job. She moves in with her white grandmother Martha, a wealthy but lonely woman who pays her grandchild to be her companion. But Martha's behavior soon becomes erratic, then even threatening, and Ava must escape before her story and Josephine's converge.

The Revisioners explores the depths of women's relationships―powerful women and marginalized women, healers and survivors. It is a novel about the bonds between a mother and a child, the dangers that upend those bonds. At its core, The Revisioners ponders generational legacies, the endurance of hope, and the undying promise of freedom.

Excerpt
The Revisioners

It was King who told me we forgot the photograph. Twelve years old, but he'd been washing his own clothes since he was eight, and was often the one to remind me to take the trash out on Thursdays. I didn't intend to place all that responsibility on him—he was a child—but he identified the holes in my capacity and dove into them. While I was filing motions for Mr. Jeff at Wilkerson & Associates, he was microwaving neat squares of beef lasagna. And now this, the picture my grandmother's great-grandmother had had taken of herself, standing at the edge of her farm. Miss Josephine. Her husband had just died, and you could not miss that in her eyes, the loneliness. But you could also glimpse the pride: the rows of corn, their stalks double her height, the chickens at her feet. A smokehouse with shingles planked toward the roof like two hands in prayer.

"We could go back and get it," King says.

I shake my head. "It's too late," I say, and maybe it is and ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Sexton's deft plotting creates one of the best, most layered generational family sagas in recent memory. She skillfully demonstrates how the past informs the present, and how we are all the sum of not just our personal choices but also the intricate webs of our family histories. The metaphysical connections between Josephine, Gladys and Ava are creatively drawn and beautifully rendered, and these relationships elevate the novel to truly impressive heights...continued

Full Review (803 words).

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(Reviewed by Lisa Butts).

Media Reviews

Washington Post
This intermingling of stories makes an evocative point about the path that black Americans have followed over the past century and a half...The result is a novel marked by acts of cruelty but not, ultimately, overwhelmed by them. The line stretching from Ava back to Josephine and beyond connects a collection of women attuned to danger, quick to adapt, remarkably hopeful about the future.

New York Times
[S]tunning...Sexton’s writing is clear and uncluttered, the dialogue authentic, with all the cadences of real speech. There is no false teenager slang, no tortured Southern accents or crude approximations of the words of the enslaved. Song lyrics, prayers, chants and Scripture are used liberally to situate the characters in time, but also to bind them to one another through a shared culture... The book grants the harsh facts of history the weight of myth; but the plot itself is not quite the point; this is a novel about the women.

Booklist
[A] powerful, deeply personal second novel...It's rare for dual narratives to be equally compelling, and Sexton achieves this while illustrating the impact of slavery long after its formal end...Readers will engage fully in this compelling story of African American women who have power in a culture that attempts to dismantle it.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Sexton returns with this excellent story of a New Orleans family's ascent from slavery to freedom, paying poetic tribute to their fearlessness...This novel is both powerful and full of hope.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
This second novel from Sexton confirms the storytelling gifts she displayed in her lushly readable debut, A Kind of Freedom...At the intriguing crossroads of the seen and the unseen lies a weave among five generations of women.

Author Blurb R. O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries
I was mesmerized by The Revisioners, a time-bending epic about family, desire, strength, and terror, as well as the possibly supernatural power of the stories we tell ourselves. Was mesmerized? Am mesmerized, will remain mesmerized. Sexton's novel is extraordinary, and its effects will go on and on.

Author Blurb Jami Attenberg, author of All Grown Up
Margaret Wilkerson Sexton's writing is graceful and stylish, her truths relevant and necessary—it's just so exhilarating to read her. I was mesmerized by The Revisioners, an impeccable novel of magic, loss, and family, all anchored by generations of powerful women.

Author Blurb Lydia Kiesling, author of The Golden State
I read this wonderful novel nearly in a single sitting, carried along by its exemplary pacing and structure, its rich cast of characters, and its deft explorations of trauma, cruelty, survival, and love. Written in a haunted present and a past that's not past, The Revisioners honors the living and the lost in a painful, tender testament to the power of fiction.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Income inequality in New Orleans

In Margaret Wilkerson Sexton's The Revisioners, mixed race protagonist Ava moves into her aging white grandmother's ostentatious New Orleans mansion in order to help out, and also to save money so she can one day afford to buy a home of her own. Throughout the novel, Sexton paints a vivid picture of the income inequality evident in different areas of the city.

New Orleans

In a 2018 report by the Brookings Institute on income inequality in American cities, New Orleans came in at number four (out of the 100 most populous cities in the country). Brookings notes that the 20th percentile of households earn an average yearly income of just $12,373, while the 95th percentile earn an average of $203,254. (To put things in perspective, the average ...

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