Catherine GentileJan 5, 2022
Even for someone trained from birth to manage a farm, stepping into an inheritance at the age of twenty is not easy. Yet this is the situation facing Promise Mears Crawford when Sunday’s Orphan opens in 1930. Trouble comes at her from many directions. Her adoptive uncle, Taylor Crawford, constructed his farm according to the principles of racial equality, in defiance of the Jim Crow laws in effect all around him. Taylor had the standing to resist opposition from his neighbors, but Promise lacks both his stature and the resources she needs to fulfill the obligations he took on. Her financial constraints land her in conflict with the farm’s foreman, Fletch Hart, a long-time friend whose dreams of becoming a physician she cannot support due to lack of funds.
But the potential loss of Fletch’s friendship pales in comparison to the threat posed by the arrival of Daffron Mears, a self-appointed Jim Crow enforcer whose propensity for vigilante violence is well known throughout the county. Daffron wants a job—in fact, he wants Promise’s farm, which he regards as stolen from him by Taylor—and he is not above manipulating Jim Crow laws to get his way. He implies that he will report Promise to the authorities if she turns him down while giving work to Fletch, a Black man.
To protect her friend, Promise agrees to Daffron’s demand, if only for a week. But Daffron’s return to the farm that he left twenty years before sets off a series of crises that cast doubt on everything Promise thought she knew about herself and her origins.
Catherine Gentile admits in our interview that this was a difficult novel to write. For the same reasons, it is a difficult novel to read. But its exploration of a topic too often buried beneath platitudes about the need for change and its particular relevance to the questions of racial injustice that have been front and center the last two years make it an important book.
Catherine Gentile is the author of The Quiet Roar of the Hummingbird, a fictionalized memoir, and Small Lies: A Collection of Short Stories, as well as Sunday’s Orphan.
C. P. Lesley is the author of two historical fiction series set during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible and three other novels. Her next book, Song of the Sinner, will appear in 2022.