Set in west Philadelphia in the early sixties, Tempest Rising tells the story of three sisters, Bliss, Victoria, and Shern, budding adolescents raised in a world of financial privilege among the upper-black-class. But their lives quickly unravel as their father's lucrative catering business collapses. He disappears and is presumed dead, and their mother suffers an apparent breakdown. The girls are wrenched from their mother, and as the novel opens they are living in foster care in a working-class neighborhood in the home of Mae, a politically connected card shark. Though Mae is filled with syrupy names like "pudding" and "doll face" for the foster girls, she is abusive to her own child, Ramona, a twenty-something stunning beauty. As Ramona struggles with Mae's abuse and her own hatred for the foster children, she also tries to keep at bay a powerful attraction she has for her boyfriend's father.
Diane McKinney-Whetstone richly evokes the early 1960s in west Philadelphia in this spicy story of loss and healing, redemption and love.
With overreaching prose and overwhelming family tangles, McKinney-Whetstone's return to black Philadelphia, this time in the 1960s, never quite lives up to the promise of her debut, Tumbling. Raised by her affectionate, idiosyncratic aunts and uncles after her mother's death, middle-class Clarise elopes with a poor but talented cook named Finch, and together they open their own successful catering business. Soon, three beautiful daughters--Shern, Victoria and Bliss--complete their vision of bourgeois happiness, but the repeal of Jim Crow laws lures their best customers away to white catering chains, and Finch dies in a last-ditch effort to save his faltering business. Already fragile, Clarise is hospitalized with a breakdown. When an old criminal conviction denies custody of the girls to the aunts and uncles, the children are placed in a nightmarish foster home run by compulsive gambler Mae and her adult daughter, Ramona. The children's and adults' lives are complicated by various betrayals: Mae abuses Ramona's credit; Ramona's boyfriend, Tyrone, finds comfort with another woman (while Ramona pines for Tyrone's father); and Mae's favorite cousin sexually assaults Shern. Pushed beyond their limits, the girls at last run away and the adults must work together to find them. Subplots of minor consequence overshadow the primary story, and McKinney-Whetstone's adult characters are too unreflective to win our sympathy. Despite patches of warmth and humor, melodrama prevails over some flashing moments which remind one of McKinney-Whetstone's potential. Author tour.