MIRA, $5.99, ISBN 1-55166-519-0
Multigeneral Women’s Fiction, 2000
The author says that this book is “the saga of a black family. It is not the black experience, for there is no such thing.” I believe I can be forgiven for expecting a moving, heartwarming, bittersweet tale of a sheltered, pampered black woman’s awakening to love and discovering herself amidst the sometimes harsh, sometimes wonderful, and always unjust life.
No Crystal Stair tells the story of Ann Elizabeth Carter from her younger days in 1920s Atlanta to the present day. Born rich, she falls for an Army Air Corps soldier, Robert Metcalf, and her relationship with him catapults her from the safety of her world into one where the KKK reigns.
There is an embryo of a truly wonderful story in here. Unfortunately, life is not only peachy in this story, it is also very preachy. In the first chapter alone I am hit in the head not to talk bad about other people, to marry only for love, and many sweet moral values – in a way that is told, not shown. The author’s simplistic writing style can be graceful, but coupled with many sermons that just sound sanctimonious and condescending after a while, she makes this story almost irritating to finish.
And the characters are mainly one-dimensional, with the bad people so bad they’re… well, bad. Good people are good, and Ann herself is intelligent, graceful, romantic, independent, talented… perfect people with hardly any flaws. As a result, I can’t envision any possible ending for them except for one rosy pink-hued one where everyone lives in a happy Utopian wealthy manor. And I’m right.
There’s no urgency, no sense of fear on my part that these characters may actually fail in their undertakings or facing their fears. Ann and Robert and their good friends are not humans, they’re glorious demigods, fearless, flawless, and undaunted in overcoming anything that dare stand in their path. Hence, with me on autopilot reading. Gee, what’s the problem now? Oh that? Big deal. They’ll get over it (and they did). The incessant bombardment of moral values gets really annoying. Every page emphasizes the fact that every black character gets the shaft – yes, yes, yes, after 1000 references, I know already!
The apt word for this book is “safe”. That’s why it doesn’t work. It never actually dares to rip apart the Utopian facade of its rosy-colored outlook. Ann and Robert may face the KKK, but their lives are never actually in turmoil so much that I ache or even care for them. After all, they’re demigods. No Crystal Stair is ultimately candyfloss, the Brady Bunch under the Alice Walker sheep clothing. Perfect for the reader who wants an undemanding read of a world where the big bad wolf blows, huffs, puffs, but ultimately not making much of an impact on the happy people in the straw house.