Many of the outcomes of Queen Sugar are foreseeable from the beginning. Charley Bordelon, an African-American widowed school teacher from California who has inherited a Louisiana sugar cane farm, will face multiple problems in an industry dominated by white men but will prevail. Charley, a suburbanite from Los Angeles, will create a place for herself among her relatives in the small rural community. Charley will have problems with her tween daughter Micah but will work them out. Charley will find love. And Charley may be able to mend her relationship with her estranged brother Ralph Angel.
Well, almost right. The fact is that Queen Sugar is predictable, but it still makes an enjoyable and interesting reading experience.
Charley and her daughter arrive in Louisiana a little late for the start of the sugar season, but she’s hired a manager, who supposedly has gotten started on his own. When she arrives at her farm, though, the manager has done nothing and hands in his resignation. With a late start and a bedraggled looking acreage, Charley must find a manager to teach her the sugar business. She just barely has the money to make it through the first year.
Charley and her daughter Micah are living squeezed into a small room in the home of Miss Honey, Charley’s grandmother. Miss Honey throws a party for Charley to meet all her Louisiana and Texas family, but everyone is dismayed when Charley’s half-brother Ralph Angel arrives with his little boy. Charley has not met Ralph Angel since she was a girl, but the rest of the family is angry because he pushed Miss Honey down and broke her arm the last time he was there. Still, Miss Honey wants the family to accept him.
Baszile does a good job of making Ralph Angel understandable. He bears a grudge against Charley, believing that she has been spoiled all her life and has had all the advantages due to him. He is also a criminal. He is not a villain, but his behavior is almost invariably self-defeating. He considers himself too educated for manual labor, consistently exaggerating his accomplishments, and works his way out of several jobs, cheats, lies, and steals. Still, Baszile is able to evoke in us a modicum of sympathy for him without magically providing him a happy ending.
Charley battles bad weather, difficulties finding a manager or affordable equipment, attempts to cheat her, and her own feelings of inadequacy trying to get her first crop to the mill. During the battle we learn interesting facts about the sugar industry. Baszile also creates a lively picture of this colorful area of the country, with its mix of cultures.
Charley’s courtship by a sugar grower named Remy Newell adds some piquancy without taking over the story. If you are looking for something light with a likable, determined heroine, you’ll probably enjoy Queen Sugar.