Edward A. Farmer’s debut novel tells the story of a Mississippi cotton plantation and its house full of secrets.
In 1966, Bernice, a black woman living alone, accepts her brother Floyd’s invitation to serve at the Kern plantation with him. While Floyd works in the cotton fields, Bernice works in the house with another servant, Silva.
After Silva warns her that “Some things just don’t keep well inside this house,” Bernice notices a tension on the plantation that only heightens when Silva’s sons, Jesse and Fletcher, begin work as cotton pickers. As the missus of the house begins flirting with Jesse, Bernice starts to uncover the missus’s vengeful plan and the secrets that have been lurking in the house for years. Bernice grapples with her own position in the conflict as both a servant and confidant. As the seasons change, from the burning Southern summer to a gray and lifeless winter, so too does the mood inside the Kern household.
Farmer’s characters struggle to determine whether their lives are driven by their own choices—or by their circumstances and the choices others have made for them. Fletcher questions how he and the other servants are any different from slaves. Bernice wants to believe she and the others control their fates, but as the missus’s revenge plan unfolds and the situation in the house deteriorates, more people fall prey to the anger that seems to pass through generations.
Farmer has woven a richly descriptive historical tale that chronicles just how much pain and racism can alter the course of one’s life. Read Pale and discover along with Bernice that “some things just don’t keep well inside this house”—and, no matter how long they have remained hidden, one of those things is secrets.
Pale is one of our 2020 Summer Reads. Find our full Summer Reading List here.