Denny S. Bryce’s In the Face of the Sun continues her exploration of Black history of the 1920s in her second can’t-stop-reading-it novel.
1928—Los Angeles. The elegant Hotel Somerville, where L.A.’s African American rich and famous gather to be seen. Black Hollywood. Brown Broadway. The NAACP. W. E. B. Du Bois. Movie stars.
1968—Chicago. A city that’s ripe for explosion. The Civil Rights Movement. The Democratic National Convention. A crumbling marriage.
Daisy Washington, a maid at the Hotel Somerville, has specific goals. She needs to make enough money to provide her ailing mother the care she needs. Daisy also wants to resume her college studies and become a journalist. To augment her hotel pay, Daisy secretly feeds a newspaper acquaintance hot gossip items and scandals about those who live and play at the Somerville. Meanwhile, her younger sister, Henrietta, dreams of being a part of Black Hollywood and the Brown Broadway scenes of L.A. As Daisy learns, L.A. is a harsh town for people of color, and she quickly gets an education about racism, betrayal, money, and activism. And murder.
Frankie Saunders, a kindergarten teacher at a school in Hyde Park, needs to leave her abusive husband behind in Chicago and flee to her mother Henrietta’s home in L.A. What starts as a lift to the Greyhound station turns into the ride of Frankie’s life when she hooks up with her Aunt Daisy, who’s battling her own demons and determined to settle forty-year-old scores.
Just as Bryce focused on the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago during the Jazz Age in her marvelous debut novel, Wild Women and the Blues (2021), she has turned to another fascinating setting in Black history for In the Face of the Sun. Daisy’s story is the more interesting of the two narratives, and that easily is attributed to the dichotomy of the expensive suits and the sparkly gowns of the rich and famous Black community and the aprons and uniforms of the Black maids who cater to their wishes at the hotel.
That is not to suggest Frankie’s desperation to extract herself from an abusive marriage isn’t important. Frankie is a principled young Black woman who dresses plainly and wears her hair in a Jackie O flip despite her cousin Tamika urging her to go natural. Frankie is as pragmatic as her Aunt Daisy is flamboyant, and the contrast between them lifts the story as they travel and bicker across the country. All the while, both women contemplate the wrongs they’ve suffered and seek a way to heal and forgive.
Denny S. Bryce’s novels don’t merely expose histories from the Black American experience. They elevate and celebrate those histories. She writes with excitement and love for her characters and their settings, and both of those elements are unforgettable.
In the Face of the Sun published April 26, 2022. Denny S. Bryce lives and writes in Savannah, Georgia. To learn more about her, visit her web site.
Thank you to Netgalley for the digital ARC of this novel.