Rattlebone | Maxine Clair


by Maxine Clair

with an introduction by Okechukwu Nzelu


Published June 2023
ISBN: 9781914198465
Format: Paperback

Also available as an eBook:

If you’ve ever tasted the after-rain clay dirt on a Kansas summer afternoon, or if you’ve ever secretly wanted to, you may understand why I was often tempted to eat a stick of chalk. It held the smell of that clay dirt.

Irene Wilson knows that a ‘no-name invisible something’ has settled over her parents’ marriage, and suspects her glamorous new teacher is to blame. Irene is not alone in her suspicions. In the town of Rattlebone, a small Black neighbourhood of Kansas City, secrets are hard to keep and growing up is a community affair.

As Irene is initiated into adult passion and loss, her family story takes its place in a tightly woven tapestry of individuals whose griefs and joys are as vivid as her own.

Through the strong smells of manure and bacon wafting downriver from the stockyards, roadhouses playing the latest jazz and radios at Union Hall broadcasting warnings to the low-lying communities along the rivers, Clair has captured an entire world through the eyes of its unforgettable heroine. Rattlebone is a one-of-a-kind triumph of American fiction, for fans of Daphne Palasi Andreades’ Brown Girls and Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John.

‘A perfectly formed classic…It deserves to be widely read, a set text, cherished.’ Observer

‘Conflicts, disillusionments and triumphs in 1950s Kansas City … Exquisite.’ Times Literary Supplement

‘I read Rattlebone when it was first published in 1994. I loved it then, and all these years later I love it more’
Ann Patchett

‘Each skilful plot twist, each new, wonderful character has the effect of a sip of literary love potion. There is magic dust sprinkled over each and every page . . . Maxine Clair has offered us hope without rhetoric. She has told a story of struggle with a quietly triumphant end that says, sometimes, even in places called Rattlebone, Black girls get to live happily ever after too.’ New York Times Book Review

‘Told in a style that is memorable for its ability to shift tones and to capture, in rich and controlled language, new levels of consciousness . . . Clair consistently attains the poetry organic to everyday speech while avoiding the quaint, the forced and the patronising.’ Washington Post

This brilliant debut belongs on the same shelf as V. S. Naipaul’s Miguel Street and Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John . . . Rattlebone is enchanting, sexy, wise, and richly imagined.Howard Norman