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Why I Read All the Days Past, All the Days to Come
I’ve been interested in reading this book, which is the final volume in The Logan Family saga since I FINALLY read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry a few months ago for and article on Family Reads. I’m sorry to say that I had never read “Roll of Thunder”, and I liked it a lot.
This book got my attention because it follows Cassie’s life into adulthood, when I would have thought that are of her childhood experiences would have shaped her in an interesting way.
The Logan Family Saga is loosely based on the experiences of Taylor and her family. The fictionalized Logan family, however, is unusual in their community as they are one of the few Black landowners and also one of the few small farmers. Most of their neighbors are either large (white) landowners or sharecroppers, who are both White and Black.
How the Logans manage to live in that environment, while holding on to their land, not getting themselves jailed or killed, and finally, are able to support themselves and get their children educated is quite a story.
I was confused about this final volume because even though it is catalogued and listed as a “teen” book, it is much longer than the earlier books. Quite honestly, it looks like an adult book, and the story is about an adult.
So I had high hopes that this would be a good “bridge” book for adults who like a slightly faster read.
The plot promised to follow Cassie into law school and then into the Civil Rights struggle, so I was excited to see what role Cassie ultimately plays.
Why You Should, or Sadly, Should Not, Read All the Days Past, All the Days to Come
To be honest, I am sad to say that I think this book fails as a novel. It feels unfinished. The characters are all flat AND static, meaning that they always feel sort of two dimensional and do not change or evolve.
Also, there are A LOT of characters…the setting of the story changes as Cassie moves from state to state and chracters enter and disappear without warning.
In several instances, the narrative arch that she sets up falls flat, or Taylor skips over the climax entirely. An example of this tendency is Cassie’s loss of her husband. After a long plot involving a prior girlfriend and a lost pregnancy, () dies unexpectedly while the couple are out on a boat with some friends. And after Cassie, inexplicably, as a nonswimmer, jumps in the water after her husband goes missing, the action suddenly cuts away, and we find that Cassie is on the move again.
Taylor seems to move Cassie from place to place in order to illustrate certain issues about racial equality (or lack thereof), but Cassie’s moves don’t mean anything in terms of the narrative.
When Cassie FINALLY, as promised, goes to law school, Taylor goes to great pains to describe the process of applying (in which of course, EVERYONE wants Cassie), sends her off to an all-white school in Boston, and then jumps ahead five years to show Cassie already working as a lawyer.
Then, when she finally goes South to work for the Civil Rights effort, it’s to teach the Mississippi Constitution to locals to help them pass the poll test. There’s nothing wrong with this, but a reoccurring subplot in half of the book is about how Cassie doesn’t want to teach, even though she is trained to, but she never uses her legal training to really assist with the cause…and in fact, when things start to get intense, she leaves and goes back to Boston, where she admittedly works in a White law firm as a “token”.
So I’m sorry to say, and sad to admit, that this book is a very weak final volume to a fascinating story.
What makes this book worth reading, if at all?
The story does shed light on what it was like to live in the US as a Black person outside of the South. In some ways, life is harder to Cassie, especially when she makes her way to parts of the country where she doesn’t know anyone. In the South, as she remarks, all of the rules are clear, but in other parts of the country she has to sort things out for herself…and she can be refused service anytime, anywhere, without explanation.
Cassie deals with it by sometimes fighting, sometimes moving on, and most often, relying on networking through friends and associates.
She also sheds some light on the way that her family made their way, most compellingly by living together in fairly large groups. According to Cassie, everyone got along perfectly all the time, which I know can’t be true…but she does show the model that worked to help people get their start. I have to admit, at the same time, I wondered why the neighbors didn’t complain about so many people living in a house meant for a family. She talks about White flight in the neighborhoods where her family lives, but she doesn’t discuss what the White neighbors thought of home on their street being turned into a boarding house and having people sleeping in every room.
The important thing about this story, to me, is that the Logan family, as shown in this series, are people who, despite obstacles, generally make it. If you are a middle class American, especially, you will be able to identify with the Logans work ethic, their commitment to clinging to their land, and their emphasis on education, among other things.
Depiction of African Americans, especially historical depictions, focus way too much on the negative, while meanwhile, there was always a Black middle class and elite in the U.S. who were working hard to make their way, just like White Americans.
The more I think about it, the more I think that the Jim Crow laws were devised by the establishment long ago to keep the middle and lower classes fighting among ourselves while the elite raked in the money and the power.
You tend to hate an enemy you don’t know. Keeping us from knowing each other, I’m sure, was the point the whole time.
Again, getting back to the problem with this book: Taylor’s purpose is not clear, Cassie’s motivations are not clear, and the story is too broad.
If anything, stick with the first few chapters for the unique portrait Taylor paints.
Scenes from American life you haven’t seen, 1940-1960
One of the strangest things about All the Days Past is Taylor’s lack of physical characterization. On the rare occasion when any body part, for example, is even mentioned, it’s kind of jarring. It’s as though all the characters in the book exist without bodies.
I always try to find pictures that reflect the descriptions in the book. I really struggled with this one because I was determined not to show pictures of protests even though they do figure heavily in the story. You can look those up yourself quite easily, if you haven’t seen them.
Instead, here are some photos of everyday life and scenes that relate to the novel.