The God of Sno Cone Blue by Marcia Coffey Turnquist
Review by Linda Root
Please see below for information about the giveaway!!
Occasionally I find a book which exceeds my highest expectations even when it has overwhelmingly positive reviews and peer recognition such as Marcia Coffey Turnquist's debut novel, but rarely have I found a piece of literary fiction as compelling as The God of Sno Cone Blue, a B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree. As suggested by the title, the book is a masterpiece of visual imagery but it is also a penetrating commentary on the human condition. It is a showpiece not only in the quality of its writing but in the author’s management of its sensitive content. While the protagonist is an adolescent throughout most of the book, this is not a classic coming-of-age story. When I learned it had been a selection of the Mother and Daughter Book Club, I was apprehensive it was going to be a two-hankie family saga, but it is far more complex than an intrusion into the misadventures of a dysfunctional family. It is a two-tiered mystery with a built-in tragic love story. Thanks to the author’s wordsmithing, none of the twists in plot seem contrived. Since one level of the story unfolds in the form of letters sent at intervals from a long-dead mother to her coming-of-age daughter, I expected a heavy dose of the paranormal. However, while the novel is highly inspirational it is not fantasy. The God of Sno Cone Blue is not a ghost story. Its devils are flesh and blood.
I asked to review Sno Cone Blue because of its captivating title and the cover image of a young girl with one blue eye and one brown, but I was reeled in by the beginning pages describing an event familiar to anyone who has lain in fresh hay or new grass and looking skyward to see images in the clouds, perhaps even glimpses of the face of God. Grace, the protagonist in the story, views her clouds against a sky of a color she calls sno cone blue. Like most cloud watchers, she finds her images illusive and short lived. Sometimes she sees herself until her image morphs into that of someone else. Not only is her description arresting, it is portentous of the ending of the novel.
The story is two-tiered. The first involves Grace in her teenage years during the latter 20th century, but it is the second tier which drives the plot. The protagonist in the second tier is Grace’s mother Sharon, speaking to her daughter though a chain of letters received at intervals long after Grace’s mother’s death. When Grace receives the first one, she expects they contain a mother’s guidance but what she finds is a confessional. By using the format provided by the letters, the author is able to jump from one point of view to another without offending the reader’s senses.
Another outstanding feature of Ms.Turnquist’s writing is what I call voice. The beliefs, behavior and word choices of the adolescent Sharon in the 1960s are very different from those associated with Grace in the 1980s. The settings are also discrete. While this is not a historical novel, it is one which exhibits a high level of historical accuracy.
Both major and minor characters are well developed. As example is Sharon’s mother Astrid, who does not like children and had no desire to be a parent. In the early story, she manifests her loathing by forcing her children to address her by her given name. In essence, in Sharon’s world there is no such person as mother. There is only Astrid. On the other hand, in Grace’s world, her female parent is almost always Mom or Momma as opposed to Sharon. She sometimes refers to herself as the preacher’s wife. In essence, she defines herself by her relationship to others. We are introduced to her through the recollections of her daughter as she recalls her mother’s first meeting with members of her husband’s congregation. They are unexpected until later, and the scene begins when Grace’s mother has just stepped out of the shower onto a slippery floor.
At the table they froze, for here came Sharon Carstend, still in her early 20s and fresh as Eve in a fig leaf. I tried to warn her, but it was too late. She slipped to the floor like a seal on wet rock. Slap! Worse still, the towel flew: There were her breasts and all the rest, without even a square of bikini for cover.
The phrase "Oh Momma" in the above excerpt says a great deal about the relationship between Momma and Grace, and is characteristic of Marcia Coffey Turnquist’s ability to share much information in a single word. Similarly, she often uses a subtle change in title or address to reflect a change in Grace’s attitude. For example, in the early dialogue she commonly refers to her father as Father and addresses him as Dad, but after she has confronted him with the revelations in her mother’s letters, what had been respect has become contempt, as reflected in the following narrative.
Before long, I knew the preacher was snooping through my things.
As her mother’s adolescent love story unfolds, Grace realizes she is presently the same age as the young Sharon in her mother’s latest letter and she suspects her mother planned to have the letters released in that manner. However, it is a pace she cannot tolerate, and she no longer believes what she has been told. She embarks on a quest to resolve her heritage by trapping the accomplice who delivers them, but she fails. The journey is not painless for her or those who must deal with her. In essence, she is a teenager in rebellion, but one with more cause than most. The letters themselves become more frenetic, obviously written by a woman approaching death, and Grace feels she is running out of time. She is convinced the boy in the letters is her biological father who abandoned her mother due to the stigma of her mother’s pregnancy. She is the caretaker’s daughter and he is the aristocrat’s son. However, there is a more sinister aspect to her mother’s story than an overworked Hardy theme—a darker truth than the ravishment of the servant's daughter by the scion of her masters. When Grace pieces it together from the letters and her own intuitive investigation, it is uglier than she dreamed. Yet Grace is committed to avenge her mother’s tragic youth at whatever cost and her determination places those she loves in danger.
While Grace is always the focus of the plot, both her story and her mother's are populated with rich characters of considerable complexity, including one of the most despicable villainesses in my wide reading and personal experiences. The author’s mastery of the descriptive phrase allows the most jaded reader to build an almost uncanny desire to see Sharon and her progeny avenged. For example, when Grace and her friend Sandy rescue a disabled child they find in Astrid’s care, Grace becomes injured. In this scene, the child is helping treat the wound.
I sat on the stool and she planted the bucket, plopping down on the floor behind it. Soon as she hit the concrete, Sandy gasped and covered her mouth. I had to lean around the bucket to see why: horrible scars marred the insides of her thighs. The skin looked melted, like Apple McEgan’s head. I stared at the crotch of her shorts, trying not to imagine what was underneath. It set my own skin on fire.
"What happened?" Sandy said, her mouth still covered.
Patsy’s face went pink, and she folded her legs to hide the scars. "I wath bad."
"Bad?” I asked, “How do you mean?”
“Athtrid punished me…She thed nobody would make a baby with a twat like that.”
The child was scalded with chicken fat for saying hello to the boy who delivered hay for the horses. In the story, Grace’s friend Sandy had to leave the room. I had to close the book, but not for long.
There are some artful twists toward the end of the story. Many of them are predictable, and I suspect are meant to be. However, the ultimate revelation in the letters and its resolution are artfully plotted, and the bittersweet ending makes perfect sense. In the words of Grace Carstend, herself a mother of three teenage children in the closing pages of the book:
Suddenly I was a child again, back in that weedy grass, staring at the sky over my backyard fence and that face, the blue eye on the right and brown on the left—exactly opposite mine. It wasn’t my own face I’d seen in a sky of sno cone blue, it was hers.
There is much of life revealed in The God of Sno Cone Blue. If I were to select a single word to summarize the theme of this significant work, I would choose the word redemption.
I highly recommend this powerful book to lovers of fine fiction.
Marcia Coffey Turnquist has so graciously offered a free copy of The God of Sno Cone Blue to one lucky winner: a signed copy to a North American winner or Kindle book worldwide.
To enter, simply comment below OR at the Facebook thread for this entry, located here.
It's that easy!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marcia Coffey Turnquist is a writer, journalist, novelist and blogger. She is also a devoted wife and mother. The God of Sno Cone Blue is her debut novel, and it has already been awarded the coveted B.R.A.G. medallion. Prior to writing novels, Marcia worked as a television journalist, anchoring and reporting for KOIN-TV, the CBS affiliate in Portland, Oregon. For most of her seven years there, she anchored the noon news and reported for the evening newscasts. With the birth of her second child, Marcia made the choice to “retire” from television news to raise her children, a tough decision but a decision she has never regretted. She holds a B.A. in communications from Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon where she also minored in political science. She has a Master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University near Chicago. For more about Marcia and her next projects, visit her website.