I received a copy of this book courtesy of the author.
“Letting Go” by Maria Thompson Corley is a sprawling long-distance romance novel. Cecile is a young Canadian woman who wins a place in Juliard in New York City in the USA to study classical piano. Langston is a young Canadian man who is studying to be a teacher in his home town while washing dishes in a restaurant. When Cecile and Langston meet by chance when Cecile is on a rare trip home, their connection is instantaneous. They find that they have a lot in common: their family difficulties, their academic interests, their cultural heritage, their ambition. When Cecile returns to New York they are able to bridge the distance with letters, but are letters enough to bridge everything else?
This was an incredibly refreshing book. I’ve read a few books since I started this blog that deal with race in America, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book like this. Maybe the closest was “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings“. This is, at its heart, a book about black excellence. This is not a historical novel of slavery or even a more novel of migration. The characters in this book aren’t poor, uneducated, downtrodden or disadvantaged. Cecile and Langston are smart, articulate and proud of their West Indian heritage. They have road trips and goals and family support and holidays and are both very relateable characters.
This is not to say that Corley shies away from discussing race: not at all. However, Corley explores race in a much more subtle, everyday and modern way, through Cecile breaking stereotypes by being a black pianist, conversations at university between black students debating politics and philosophies and in intimate relationships where interracial couples negotiate respect. Cecile is the key narrator in this book, and I think that worked really well to get across some incredibly honest insights into what it can be like for a woman struggling to find a social group, balancing sexual desire against religious beliefs and finding herself trapped in a toxic relationship. Corley has a sophisticated and flexible writing style and easily moves between diary entries, letters and prose to tell this story.
I think the only thing I had a bit of trouble with was that this book is a bit of a slow burn. It is a romance that slowly builds and unfurls over many years. However, I think that this is actually a really important book to read because this book fosters such a deep sense of empathy. Not just for Cecile and Langston because of their race, but because of their experiences, their relationships, their families, the effects that drugs and abandonment and religion and love have had on their lives.