In Sugar Weather, Lisa Simmons sows the imagination with the seeds of a great gothic romance (in the English Lit sense of the word, not the pop). She gives us Lucy who, like Catherine Earnshaw (from Emily Bronte’s famous book, Wuthering Heights ), is strong-willed and passionate but also contemplative and composed (refined). As I read, I imagined Lucy carrying herself as I’ve seen Catherine portrayed MGM’s 1930s adaption, with a certain dignity and “knowingness”.
To continue the analogy, Lisa plants two Heathcliffs. One in the form of Nicholas Grant, the plantation owner and Lucy’s owner, and the other in the form of Raymond, Lucy’s first love, a slave who was sold to a different owner. Like Bronte’s Heathcliff, both men can be harsh and cruel, succumbing to their more primal natures, and yet both (like Heathcliff) are capable of kindness and gentler acts. Both men are also orphans like Heathcliff. Nicholas by choice and Raymond by circumstance.
Set in the 1700s during the heyday of the Jamaican sugar plantations and slavery, Sugar Weather tells multiple tales anchored to the story of book’s main character, Lucy. When she is introduced to us, Lucy is a slave whose current master must sell her, having lost his plantation as a result of a hurricane. The hurricane is Lisa’s moor. In Wuthering Heights, the moor serves as a symbolic natural cage to the ambitions of the book’s characters. Hurricanes are an anticipated threat to the Englishmen who have decided to start plantations on the island. However, despite the preparations, every season there are many owners who resign themselves to the fact they cannot go on.
Nicholas Grant, the man who purchases Lucy, is an outlier, a man who has never made any storm preparations but whose fortune continues to grow despite the devastation left by the hurricanes. His plantation and its crops have never been touched. Nicholas has a reputation for being unruly and “unconventional”. Like Heathcliff, he is uncouth and “wild”. His wealth allows him to bend the social norms. He rapes Lucy as soon as he gets her to his home (an implied norm for the age) but he earns the consternation of his peers when he falls in love with her and she becomes his “wife”.
Raymond, the man Lucy first “jumped the broom” with, was owned by the same man who owned Lucy before her sale to Nicholas. However, he does not go with her to Nicholas’. He is sold to a different owner and eventually escapes. His seemingly animal instincts and excellent tracking abilities helps grow the tiny colony of escaped slaves on the island. The colony grows to the point in strength and number where they are able to take action to free others.
It is Raymond I feel most sorry for in the book. Not because he is an escaped slave or because he is beaten and tortured but because even at the very end of the book, he has not moved on. He remains underdeveloped. He is single-mindedly focused on finding Lucy and reliving the past, where she and Nicholas have grown (together and individually). Lucy grows from a weepy shell of a character to someone whose voice moves the story. Nicholas fills his shell with vulnerability and the aspects of a more balanced and accessible character.
I hope there is a Sugar Weather 2 where Lisa reveals more about Raymond. I also hope she also tells us more about the fates of Nicholas and Lucy’s children, Bonnie and David. Bonnie in particular because she was raised as a free person, who at the end of Sugar Weather must learn to live as a slave.
There are many interesting discussions to be had about the situations presented in Sugar Weather. The challenge is prioritizing them. There were some narrative tangents in the story that dampened the pace and impact of the core tale. It becomes necessary at times to figure out which events were critical to the story and which were not. However, they did not drift far enough from the main narrative to detract from the book as a whole.
This is my favorite version of the video for Kate Bush’s song. I like it’s DYI feel.