The Unsettled

Knopf. Oct. 2023. 336p. ISBN 9780525519935. $29. F
Mathis follows up her beloved The Twelve Tribes of Hattie with the story of two mothers, both bound and unbound from each other. Having drifted for much of her adult life and had son Toussaint with a man who disappeared a few months into her pregnancy, Ava Carson is happy to settle down as a married woman in New Jersey. But the anger of her righteous husband Abemi knows no bounds when Ava’s old lover Cass suddenly reappears on his way to Philadelphia; soon Ava and Toussaint are stuck in a crumbling family shelter in that city. Ava has tried to be the loving mother that her own mother, Dutchess, never seemed to be—a blues singer, she drifted too and has her own sharp self-focus. But in alternate chapters told in Dutchess’s fresh, bold, entrancing voice, we learn that Dutchess had sent Ava off because she knew there was nothing for her in Bonaparte, their Alabama hometown, a place of Black self-determination that has dwindled to a handful of residents. Meanwhile, in heartfelt, pellucid language that sparkles even as it cuts to the bone, readers enter Ava’s troubled mind, feel the roach-infested stickiness of the shelter, and follow Ava as she rejoins Cass, only to be caught in the awful police violence of 1985 Philadelphia.
VERDICT Another triumph for Mathis.
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