Phillips, Delores 1950-
PHILLIPS, Delores 1950-
PERSONAL: Born 1950, in GA. Education: Attended Cleveland State University.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Soho Press, Inc., 853 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.
CAREER: Author and psychiatric nurse. Works as a nurse in a facility for abused women and children, Cleveland, OH.
The Darkest Child (novel), Soho Press (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: In Delores Phillips's first novel, The Darkest Child, thirteen-year-old Tangy Mae Quinn is one of ten children born to her mother, Rozelle, all of whom are fathered by different men. Tangy Mae wants desperately to continue her education in order to escape from the bitter poverty she sees around her. Her mother, however, has other ideas. Rozelle, a beautiful, light-skinned black, makes ends meet with a housecleaning job and occasional prostitution, and she wants Tangy Mae to quit school to take over her enterprises.
In fact, Rozelle has ideas for all her children. She forces all of them, even grown sons Sam and Harvey, to give her any money they earn. She compels them to shoplift, tortures them with cigarette burns and disfiguring beatings, makes some of them work as prostitutes, and enforces her will on them through a household reign of terror. Though they are important to her, and she might love them in her own way, she rules them with brutal violence, harrowing mood swings, psychological abuse, and depraved cruelty. "The verisimilitude of Phillips's rendering of Rozelle's pathology strikes with a death rattle," remarked Randall Kenan in New Leader. Rozelle even wields the weapons of racism used by society at large, categorizing and favoring her children based on their skin tone—her preference for the light-skinned children leaves out the dark-skinned Tangy Mae.
In The Darkest Child "Phillips weaves together several plotlines involving dozens of characters—[centered] around one family's domestic terror," Kenan stated. "A few strands of the narrative come loose, but it doesn't matter; one marvels at how Phillips sets in motion, and sustains, a devastating series of revelations, confrontations, and acts of violence." "By novel's end," commented Carroll Parrott Blue in the Black Issues Book Review, "the family's dead-end stories have spiraled into the face of an evil so pure and horrific that we, the readers, must confront how to stem the tide of our children's societal neglect, poverty, and racism."
Lizzie Skurnick, writing in the New York Times Book Review, remarked that the novel "has its own array of pernicious archetypes" among its characters, and concluded that "hokey dialogue, settings, and characters have swallowed up the clean lines of Phillips's story." Other reviewers commented more favorably on the novel's characterizations and storyline. "Using a large cast of powerfully drawn characters, Phillips captures life in a town that serves as a microcosm of a world on the brink of change," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The author "writes vividly and certainly creates memorable characters," observed a contributor to Kirkus Reviews who also noted that Phillips "offers no explanation" for Rozelle's pathological cruelty. Library Journal critic Faye A. Chadwell called The Darkest Child an "exceptional debut novel" with "a depth and dimension not often characteristic of a first novel."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Black Issues Book Review, May-July, 2004, Carroll Parrott Blue, review of The Darkest Child, p. 45.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2003, review of The Darkest Child, p. 1196.
Library Journal, October 1, 2003, Faye A. Chadwell, review of The Darkest Child, p. 117.
New Leader, November-December, 2003, Randall Kenan, "In the Devil's House," review of The Darkest Child, p. 40.
New York Times Book Review, March 28, 2004, Lizzie Skurnick, "Song of the South," review of The Darkest Child, p. 11.
Publishers Weekly, January 26, 2004, review of The Darkest Child, p. 232.
Soho Press Web site, http://www.sohopress.com/ (August 30, 2004).*