|Date Published||19 August 2021|
The Long, Long Afternoon
The disappearance of housewife and mother Joyce Haney opens the lid on life in Santa Monica in the 1950s, with all its prejudices, restrictions, moralities and longings. Policeman Mick Blanke has to lift that lid completely to expose the truth.
Ruby, the Haney family’s black maid, is walking up to their house to clean it, when she finds their older child Barbara outside, who tells her tearfully that ‘they made a mess’. Upstairs is a screaming baby with a full nappy, and downstairs a blood-soaked kitchen – and the children’s mother is missing.
In this trimmed-lawn, pristine neighbourhood, being black means you are guilty, so Ruby is arrested immediately.
The story plays out against this backdrop of claustrophobic repression, revealing layer after layer of women trapped in apparently idyllic lives – so wonderful that most of them take anti-depressants to see them through – and who learn no more than how to pretend that everything is perfect. Joyce Haney is one who thought she had a way out – but she only managed to dig her grave.
Into this manicured and artificial life drops a disgraced big city cop, relocated to California, who has fought in the war, seen things because of his job that no one should be asked to see, and who has little time for further inhumanity. He has enough demons of his own and worries that his wife and children be let down by him again.
He befriends Ruby, an unthinkable liaison at that time, has her released from prison, and asks her to be his snitch on the lives of the families he must investigate. Getting into the closed circle of Joyce Haney’s friends is going to be a tough one to crack, and a maid might hear things …
This is a timely book on so many levels that it should be on a school syllabus. Decades before the Me-Too movement and Black Lives Matter, it provides some roots to both. The Long, Long Afternoon is insensitive, cloying and eye-popping. It is also a brilliant piece of writing that will wring out your heart.
Reviewed 30 April 2022 by Kati Barr-Taylor
Kati Barr-Taylor lives in her ‘cosy pigsty’ in the Dordogne. She satisfies her literary cravings by translating, writing, editing and reading.