It took me a long time to read this. It wasn't a book where one thing leads to the next in a single plot that you follow from page to page. The plot is more like a spiral that circles through five main characters in various states of poverty in a small Southern town. The owner of an all night diner, slave to nickles and daily routine. The black doctor, powerless to inspire his neighbors to follow his ideas about birth control or politics. The teenage girl whose family runs a boarding house, dirt poor, ignorant, and an unnoticed musical prodigy. The deaf/mute jeweler who has no one to speak sign language with. The labor agitator, frustrated to violence by the circumstances of those he sees around him. The book goes around and around through the lives of these, people, following them for one year. For all of them, in this year, bad goes to worse. There is uniform decay, devastation, disappointment... it is a bleak bleak landscape that only gets more grim as the book goes on.
It's written brilliantly. There are lines in the description of the people specifically, of the milieu in general, of the zeitgeist, that are just exquisite perfection. Descriptions I will remember and take away with me, into other books, into my understanding of the South during the depression. Her handling of the point of view shifts, around the town, and how the different characters' worldviews are reflected in the quality and nature of the narrative... it's nothing short of genius. I can't even think of a crack to make about this book, because it was so completely shatteringly good.
Nothing I ever want to read again. I could get the same sensation of hopelessness, ignorance, waste, and want by... wait... WHY would I want that sensation? Why don't I just go put my head against the sidewalk and flatten it with a sledge hammer?
It's a book that I should have read, and I'm glad I did, and I'm glad it was written, but now I want to eat strawberry ice cream, and read P.G. Wodehouse, and kiss my kids.