A Long Time Comin'
“a family saga with several twists and turns . . .”
Beatrice Agnew is dying. And she’s doing so with no regrets. At least that’s what she tells herself in Robin Pearson’s Long Time Comin’, a novel about an African American family in the contemporary south.
Evelyn, her beloved grand-daughter, leaves her husband and flees to the comfort of her grandmother’s home, asking questions Beatrice doesn’t want to answer. When Beatrice, known to all as Granny B, discovers that Evelyn has found a box of letters written to Beatrice’s children from their estranged father, she throws Evelyn out of the house with an unopened letter hidden in Evelyn’s pocket. The unearthing of the letters sets in motion events that will affect the lives of Beatrice, Evelyn, and all seven of Beatrice’s grown children.
Granny B is a difficult character to like. A self-professed Godly woman, she seems to forget the golden rule, cutting off everyone in her life who doesn’t live up to her expectations. That includes her children who spend their lives trying to be the impossible versions of themselves that Granny B wants them to be. Each child, though successful, harbors doubt, insecurity, and a multitude of secrets they can’t bear to share with their mother lest she trample on their hopes and dreams and squash the life out of them, much the way Granny B feels her children did to her and any happiness she might have had. The description of Granny B’s backyard could also describe Granny B,
“Back when Beatrice Agnew was raising both herself and her children, the woods crept up practically to the back door. But not today. Those small hands and feet had snatched and trampled the life right out of each tiny week or blade of grass that dared to grow.”
While Granny B grapples with how to tie up loose ends before her imminent death, Evelyn struggles with telling the husband she left about her pregnancy. Kevin, Evelyn’s hard-working husband, travels extensively, and his travels lead to a relationship with a colleague. After Kevin admits to his transgression, which amounted to little more than a brief flirtation, Evelyn flees to Granny B’s, taking to heart the Biblical decree that, “But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).
While her mother and grandmother try to convince Evelyn to accept Kevin’s pleas for forgiveness, Evelyn continues to hide her pregnancy from everyone, avoiding Keven and claiming she is needed to care for Granny B for almost her entire pregnancy. It’s a testament to Kevin’s sincerity that he takes her back, but it still takes more time for Evelyn to accept his word that his flirtation meant nothing and will not happen again.
It’s difficult to empathize with either Granny B or Evelyn. Most of Granny B’s trials in life are of her own making. Even when she attempts to mend things with her children, it must be done on her terms and in her own time. There is never an explanation as to why she wrote letters to each child rather than telling them of her cancer in person. In the letters, she let the children in on secrets she had kept or forgave them for things they had done.
When the family members flock home to be with her before her days on earth are over, Granny B refuses to see them, “wrap things up,” or say goodbye. The reader never knows why she won’t see her children who only wish to say goodbye. When pressed on this by Evelyn, Granny B says, “That’s what my funeral is fo’.” It’s hard to imagine a mother locking herself in her room while her children beg and plead to see her one last time. Granny B puts an end to the conversation by telling Evelyn, “The well done run dry, gal. Now I don’t want to hear more ’bout this. I said all the good-byes I’m go’ to.”
As an inspirational read, there isn’t much inspiration to be found. Granny B passes, and her children and grandchildren gather to remember her. Evelyn burns the unopened letter she has held onto throughout the book. The books ends there. What was in the letter? That’s left to the imagination.
Is there forgiveness? Evelyn forgives Kevin, and Granny B’s estranged son forgives her for never loving him as a mother should. The rest? It’s hard to say. Only Evelyn’s mother seems to understand why Granny B was the way she was. “There are so many things that can happen to a person, things that other people can’t understand . . . imagine it . . . at thirteen . . . how much free will does a girl have?” While this might explain Granny’s behavior as a newly married child, it doesn’t explain her behavior as an adult.
Is there a sense of peace for the family? Pearson leads the reader to believe that there might be, but there are still many questions left unanswered.
Long Time Comin’ raises some interesting questions: Is our future based entirely on events and choices made in the past? If we don’t like the road those choices put us on, does that mean that we are doomed to wander on an unhappy journey forever? One would like to think that the answer is no for Evelyn and her family, but Granny B certainly led them to believe otherwise. Readers looking for a family saga with several twists and turns, may enjoy this very much, but don’t expect sappy tears and a happy resolution at the end.