Review of Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely
A NetGalley book
I found that it this book echoed very strongly ‘The Help’ but in a way that was intended to be humorous rather than serious, but was not sure just how deliberate this was from the author’s view. So I decided to look up the author. She is mentioned on several sites but I looked to site developed by the University of Minnesota as being one that might be reliable.
Neeley was born in Pennsylvania in 1941 in an area where Dutch was the prevailing language and was the only African-American child in her elementary and high school. She has been very active in social work amongst her community as well as writing stories with her first work being published in 1981.
Her stories about Blanche were developed over a period as she said:
“I’d like to write something about race and class that was funny,.. but for a good part of the book I was just doing it for my own amusement…”
and this book – Blanche on the Lam was published in 1992 whereas ‘The Help’ was published in 2009. Perhaps it was Neely that was being echoed?!
Blanche On The Lam won a number of prizes when published including best debut novel (Black Women’s Book Club), best first novel (Anthony Award), and best first mystery novel (Macavity Award).
Neely set out to create a feminist character in Blanche with a ‘feisty’ attitude to her work and life and what she calls ‘Darkies disease’ – a subject matter which is again explored in The Help.
The university site quotes Leslie Lockhart, a critic for The Black Scholar as claiming that
Barbara Neely challenges both her characters and readers to transcend conventional ignorance and divisive stereotypes. Neely uses the Black community to illustrate a number of social issues such as homophobia, teen pregnancy, and community activism, while at the same time demonstrating the corruption within the affluent white community. She also explores the prevailing issue of violence against African American women by exposing the hidden history of their rape by white men. Neely does this by revealing that the violence against African American women is not confined to the plantation or its time period.
Neely uses Blanche not only to entertain, but also as a medium to discuss serious societal issues. In effect, Blanche is Neely’s political voice that will reach the mainstream through the genre of feminist mystery writing. She describes her character Blanche, as an “everyday Black woman and as an agent for social change. She is a behavioral feminist!”
However, I am not sure that I agree but then in the UK one perhaps gets a different view of life from that of those living in the Southern US states.
It seemed to me that the book was a novella rather than a full length novel without the depth of characterisation that one saw in The Help – sorry to keep comparing but when the subject matter is so similar…
I did not develop any empathy with Blanche and indeed found her quite shallow and the book somewhat dated which of course will affect the interactions between Blanche and her employers somewhat as one would hope that in the last 22 years their attitudes may have changed..
I know very little about North Carolina – but the capital is Raleigh and the most popular tourist destination is Charlotte with theme parks, NASCAR racing and museums. The Tourist Board seems to think that we might want to go furniture shopping or bird watching as top ideas when we are not skiing or tubing.
It was difficult to find anything about its history until I found out that the towns of Salisbury, old Salem and Durham (not obvious copying of names from the UK here ) were associated with the end of the Civil War and was where the South surrendered to the North. Eventually, many layers down in the Tourist Board’s site you find out about the Civil Rights Movement, the History of Flight and other such items. It looks a very interesting coastline but I am not convinced I shall want to visit from what the Tourist Authority has told me.