“Mississippi plantation mistress Amanda Satterfield loses her daughter to cholera after her husband refuses to treat her for what he considers to be a “slave disease.” Insane with grief, Amanda takes a newborn slave child as her own and names her Granada, much to the outrage of her husband and the amusement of their white neighbors. Troubled by his wife’s disturbing mental state and concerned about a mysterious plague sweeping through his slave population, Master Satterfield purchases Polly Shine, a slave reputed to be a healer. But Polly’s sharp tongue and troubling predictions cause unrest across the plantation. Complicating matters further, Polly recognizes “the gift” in Granada, the mistress’s pet, and a domestic battle of wills ensues.
Seventy-five years later, Granada, now known as Gran Gran, is still living on the plantation and must revive the buried memories of her past in order to heal a young girl abandoned to her care. Together they learn the power of story to heal the body, the spirit and the soul.”
Thoughts: It has long been documented that stories bring people together and keep cultures alive. One might even argue that stories are what separate man from beast. Stories have long been told to inform, to entertain, to educate, and even to warn. Underlying all of that though, is a story’s power to heal rifts, to bridge gaps between time, place, people, and even souls. It is this power that Jonathan Odell explores in his second novel, The Healing.
The stories in question are told by the elderly Gran Gran, a former slave and healer called on to heal one last person, a little girl traumatized to an almost catatonic state by the death of her mother. Each story slowly brings the little girl out of her shell. As she reminisces on her past and unburies long-dead spiritual injuries, Gran Gran uncovers the need for her own healing. The reader in all of this storytelling becomes an active participant. She is sitting next to Gran Gran and the little girl at the table, as Gran Gran starts another tale. He is working alongside Granada as she experiences life first inside the plantation house and then with Polly Shine. By the time Gran Gran and the little girl each recover from their own spiritual ailments, the reader too finds herself eerily soothed by Gran Gran’s life lessons. It is as if unknown injuries on the part of the reader are also healed by Gran Gran’s words. It is an immensely powerful experience that bears testament to Mr. Odell’s thorough research and skills at writing.
What makes The Healing truly special is the fact that each of the characters, no matter how small a part, are incredibly realistic and oh-so memorable. Aunt Sylvie’s tirades in the kitchen, Little Man’s confusion about the loss of his friend, Granada – both as a young girl completely oblivious to the world in which she was born and as a lost, elderly woman, dear old Polly Shine, and even the multitude of nameless slaves. Each of the characters burst from the page in a way that is breathtaking, engulfing the reader in his or her story no matter the length. As a result, the reader forgets time and place as s/he experiences the trouble on the Satterfield plantation, both past and present.
The Healing is a tremendously powerful novel about nurturing body and soul and the dangers that lurk when one forgets to take care of either. The Healing is not just a work of fiction for Mr. Odell. His novel is a labor of love that is giving a voice to all those whose stories were perilously close to being lost forever. He is not just preaching about the power of story to heal, but he is acting on that lesson to heal all readers and even an entire culture. For this reader at least, he succeeds.