“Indigo Field” by Marjorie Hudson

Indigo Field (Regal House, 2023) by Marjorie Hudson contains many strong elements, rather than one. She pulls off this feat with a full panoply of writing skills on display. First, Hudson creates a compelling story with three fully developed sets of racially diverse characters whose lives intersect in both harmony and conflict. The most important character, however, might just be the tangled and wild Indian Field in North Carolina around which the novel’s action takes place. Also, a touch of magical realism underpins the story in two ways. It shows up in the history of the Tuscarora culture that lends the story a sense of timelessness. It is also is present around a ridge covered by ancient Gooley pines, their branches flickering “with the wings of small birds in mating plumage—goldfinches and cardinals, bluebirds and jays, and a lonely painted bunting blown here from the coast in a wild storm.” Finally, an important environmental message runs throughout the novel. Strong characters, sense of place, magical realism, indigenous history, and environmental themes—Indigo Field weaves these threads together into a rich and splendid tapestry.

Rand Lee, a White retired army colonel, reluctantly lives in a wealthy retirement community built below Indian Field. He went along with his wife Anne’s choice because his job has always dictated where they would live until now. Anne loves everyone she meets and is particularly fond of birds. Rand, on the other hand, is not a people person. His estranged son Jeff is an archeologist working on a dig on Indian Field. He has found pottery and bones on the land. Whose bones these are and are they old or new—that is in question.

Miss Reba Jones, an elderly Black woman with Indian blood, harbors deep anger against “whitepeople,” not only for historical wrongs committed, but the more recent murder of her niece Dannielle by her white husband. When Miss Reba shows up for the man’s trial with a gun in her purse because she is certain justice will not be done, there can be no doubt trouble is coming. Miss Reba is further connected to the murderer through his son TJ, a troubled teen who has no responsible adult to care for him after his stepmother Danielle’s murder. Miss Reba lives on the mountain and knows Indian Field and its lore intimately.

Jolene, a young White widow trying to squeak out a living on a farm, must also care for her Down’s Syndrome son Bobo. With his childlike lack of emotional control, Bobo brings an element of uncertainty to every scene where he appears. That same childlike innocence makes him one of the story’s sweetest characters.

Hudson brings these disparate characters together through the local farmer’s market, a car accident, an archeological dig, and a life-threatening storm. As they face life’s challenges, they discover their inner strengths and correct their flawed views of the world.

Hudson’s insights into the nature of love shine in the novel. She nails Rand’s guilt after his wife’s death and Reba’s anger over her niece’s murder. But perhaps the most precious insights come through Jolene’s recognition of Jeff’s good qualities when he gives a dog to her son Bobo:

[Jeff’s] got an earnestness about him that makes him seem boyish, not completely grown up. But he’s a man. A man who seems kind. Kindness is the exist quality in a man. A kind man is a man who knows how to be in this world. . . . Today Jeff’s brought a gift so much more interesting than Frank’s roll of pennies.

Bobo’s face is happy now the way it was happy when Ace was alive. It’s happy in the way a sunflower’s face is happy, turned toward the sun.

This recognition of Jeff’s fine qualities stands out in contrast to Rand’s constant harping on what a loser his son is.

All these characters must rebuild their lives after loss. Indigo Field is an impressive, sprawling novel about love and hate, life and death, sin and redemption, one worth any reader’s time.

Marjorie Hudson

Marjorie Hudson was born in a small town in Illinois and raised in Washington, D.C., where she graduated from American University with a degree in Journalism and Women’s Studies. After serving as features editor of National Parks Magazine, she moved to rural North Carolina, working as a freelance writer with a column interviewing nature photographers and publishing articles in Garden & GunAmerican Land ForumWildlife in North CarolinaOur State Magazine, and North Carolina Literary Review. As copyediting chief for Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, she encountered the work of contemporary Southern writers such as Jill McCorkle, Kaye Gibbons, and Clyde Edgerton for the first time. Inspired, she turned her hand to fiction writing, and her first story won a statewide award judged by Shannon Ravenel. She earned an MFA from Warren Wilson College. She lives with her husband, Sam, and feisty small terrier DJ, on a century farm in North Carolina, where she mentors writers and reads poetry to trees.

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