Southland ~ Nina Revoyr

Jackie Ishida, a young Japanese American law student, has recently lost her grandfather, Frank Sakai. At her Aunt Lois’ house there is discussion of an old will that leaves the store her grandfather owned for years to one Curtis Martindale. Neither one of them have ever heard of him. The mystery begins, as Jackie, albeit reluctantly, agrees to try and find out the whereabouts of this man.

When Jackie meets James Lanier, a boyhood friend of Curtis, that mystery is solved. But it has brought to light a more serious crime – a triple murder that occurred in Frank Sakai’s store during the 1965 Watts riot. The crime brings home the racism of those times, a racism that has subsided only somewhat to this day (1994). Jackie begins another journey – a journey to self-awareness. As she discovers the life of her grandfather, she discovers the roots of her own culture – a culture that she has been alienated from, assimilated as she is into the mainstream culture. Which is odd, since she’s a lesbian playing out the string with her lover Laura, a politico. Their relationship has lost most of its spark, but Jackie just can’t seem to move on, and neither can her lover.

The story starts in the present, here 1994. Nearly every other chapter moves back to the present, but in between we revisit the past, especially the mid sixties, but also the period during WWII. Jackie is forced to confront the  Japanese internment during the war, and the racism and police brutality of the mid sixties. Jackie’s quest began as the search for Curtis Martindale. When that search ended with the discovery that Curtis was one of the victims in the triple murder, locked in a meat locker, the search became who committed the crime? There is a twist to that mystery, and an even neater twist to the real identity of Curtis. Revoyr spins a very satisfying tale, and keeps the mysteries alive right up until the end.

This is perhaps the first novel I’ve read that could be considered lesbian literature, which I’ve frankly shied away from before. I had feared this might be in some way distracting, but it was merely a part of who Jackie was, and Revoyr handles the subject naturally, and integrated with the character completely. Not quite the novel that Wingshooters was (which is why I picked this one up), but a quality read nonetheless.

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