The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks: Donald Harington's History of Stay More, Arkansas
This novel has been nominated as a group read for the monthThe Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks: Donald Harington's History of Stay More, Arkansas
This novel has been nominated as a group read for the month of September, 2016, for On the Southern Literary Trail. A special thanks to "Trail Member" Jeffrey of Nashville, Tennessee, who has read all thirteen of the novels of Donald Harington for nominating this book. If you haven't visited "On the Southern Literary Trail, please do. We'd be pleased to have you join us. The reads are outstanding. Like this one. The polls for our September, 2016, Group Reads are up. Drop by. See if anything catches your fancy. I hope to see you on "The Trail."
THE STAY MORON'S OATH
Do you solemnly swear that country life is not only more peaceful than city life but more likely to last into contented old age?
That strictly speaking, a “moron” is simply a person preferring to keep to the age span between seven and twelve years?
That it is possible to remain this age for all of one’s long life?
That this is a good age for the hearing or reading of stories?
That a good story is the sweetest way to escape from the ordinary life?
That nothing is to be gained by leaving, that the greatest of all decisions is staying?
That “more” means until you’re good and ready to leave, at least not before supper and ideally not before breakfast.
Then I, with the authority vested in me by The Grand Architect of the Universe, do hereby pronounce you citizens of Stay More, with all the rights and privileges and pleasures pertaining thereto.
As administered by Donald Harington
Donald Harington, Born: December 22, 1935, Little Rock, Died: November 7, 2009, Springdale
What? You're not prepared to take this oath? You're not prepared to part with your iPhone 5? You've never wanted to get away from it all?
Big Creek Valley, Newton County, Arkansas
You're sitting there scratching your head, asking yourself, "What the Hell is this, anyway?" Well, I'll tell you. You knew I would, didn't you?
You must understand that Harington did not write the novels in chronological sequence. We were first introduced to the town of Stay More in Lightning Bug, published in 1970, which was followed by Some Other Place. the Right Place.
The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks is Harington's complete history of Stay More beginning with its earliest white inhabitants and carries us to the present. Here is the genealogy of Stay More beginning with two brothers, Noah and Jacob Ingledew who have left Tennessee because a man couldn't say "Darn" without being sermonized by some meddlesome preacher.
The story is told by an omniscient narrator, an unnamed architectural historian, who structures his tale through individual chapters devoted to the various structures erected throughout the history of the town. Now, how this historian knows the intimate details of the people who occupied each of these structures is not explained.
One might almost believe that this historian was there from the beginning, an observer so to speak. I leave it to the reader's own interpretation. I will only say that one of the consistent techniques that Harinton uses is a reference to the future in the concluding chapter of his novels. For Harington knows the disappointment of loving a book to the degree one doesn't want to see it end.
"A dissertation could easily be written on the parallels between the two books. But at the time I wrote TAOTAO I didn't know what "Magic Realism" was. For that matter, I'm not sure I yet understand it. I admired what Garcia Marquez had done and wanted to emulate it, but I took pains to make sure that everything which happened in TAOTAO was possibly conceivable, believable. There are no flying carpets in TAOTAO nor any blood running endlessly down the street. So the "magic" of Garcia Marquez might be missing.
Of course, Appalachia and the Ozarks are naturally akin to the Latin Third World in the strange things that happen, and the only way to depict them is a touch of surrealism. The tall tale, the ghost story, the folk ballad, and other forms of narrative in Appalachia and in the Ozarks have common unnatural events, weird people, a magical atmosphere that transcends 'reality.'"
Harington's novel of Stay More is a tour de force of folklore, myth, and legend that mingles with that of the United States. Brother Noah is visited by Johnny Appleseed who helps him plant an apple orchard. In the years that follow, Noah, the perennial bachelor, becomes the favorite of Stay More's children whom he treats with candy apples when they visit him to listen to his stories.
And wouldn't you know it? Jacob Ingledew invents baseball at the very moment Abner Doubleday is credited with inventing the game at Cooperstown, New York.
Yet, while the history of Stay More may parallel that of America, Stay Morons are content to live by the old ways. They are firmly against "PROG RESS," as they call it. As Harington tells us,
“'Stay More' is synonymous with 'Status Quo' in fact, there are people who believe, or who like to believe, that the name of the town was intended as an entreaty, beseeching the past to remain present.”
Yet, change is inevitable, appearing in the form of Connecticut peddler Eli Willard. Willard sells the Ingledew brothers the first clock in Stay More. Over the years he brings whale oil, leading to a decade of light. He brings scissors for the women, pocket knives for the men, resulting in the fine art of whittling.
But there is also sinister change on the horizon, when Willard shows up with all manner of firearms. While Stay More has been a type of Eden, the American Civil War is looming. Jacob Ingledew is sent to the State Capital to determine the issue of secession. Of course, Ingledew is the only delegate to vote against secession, knowing that war will destroy the harmony of Stay More.
Arkansas is divided. However, Jacob returns to Stay More and does not relay the fact that war is coming, successfully keeping his town at peace for two years.
The Confederacy has a unique way of recruiting troops, however. Virdie Boatwright travels the countryside "raising" troops, by rewarding free sexual favors to any men who enlist with the Confederate Arkansawyers. She is quite successful. Even Jacob, who is recruited twice by Virdie, is tempted to join the Rebels.
Harington swings from comedy to tragedy as Arkansas is drawn into the war of brother against brother, with Jacob remaining a Union Man. Noah joins the Confederacy. As we are told at various times, the tale of Stay More is not always a happy one.
We travel through the generations of the residents of Stay More, the Ingledews, Dinsmores, Stains, Chisms. They are all here, including characters from the previous novels. Harington captures all the foibles, joys, and sadness of life. Oh, yes. If this hasn't piqued your interest, just know that the men and women of Stay More are a hard loving, libidinous bunch.
"In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?"--John 14:2, NRSV
"About a month ago I was talking with a newspaper man--a man who's covered executions all over the South. Not just here in Louisiana--Texas, Mississippi, Georgia--all over. He's seen fifty, sixty of them. Most of them, black men. Said he never heard one called daddy's name at that last hour. Hear mama called, heard gran'mon, nanane--Jesus, God. Not one time he heard daddy called." Reverend Phillip Martin
First Edition, Alfred Knopf, New York, 1978. I had the great pleasure of meeting Professor Gaines at the Louisiana Festival of the Book in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in November, 2014. Professor Gaines kindly signed first editions of several of my copies of his works, including this one.
Where Ernest J. Gainesportrayed the long struggle for freedom in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman displaying the strength and courage of African-Americans in Louisiana, concluding with the active emergence of the Civil Rights Movement, Gaines turns to the personal tragedy of one man, Reverend Phillip Martin, the revered advocate for civil rights in the small town of St. Adrienne, following the death of Martin Luther King. Phillip continues to carry the flame.
With King's death, many blacks and whites have come to feel that the movement is over. However, Reverend Martin refuses to accept that as long as any injustice remains in his town. That injustice is in the person of Albert Chenal, a Cajun store owner who refuses to pay his black workers a fair wage.
Chenal Friday is approaching. Reverend Martin, the President of the St. Adrienne Civil Rights Committee will lead his people in a demonstration to either make Chenal treat his workers fairly or shut him down. Among the leadership of the committee is Mills, a deacon of the church, who once worked for Chenal's father. Mills knew that the older Chenal raped any black woman he found presentable. However, he never spoke out, out of what he shamefully admits was his own cowardice. Each of the committee identify with his cowardice with the exception of Reverend Martin and his young assistant Jonathan, the associate pastor, who has only been a member of the movement for eight years. As Martin is, he is fearless. But he lacks the wisdom of knowing what he is up against.
But Chenal Friday will not occur. For Reverend Martin is a man who has led two separate lives. For the past fifteen years, he has been a leader among his people. He has brought about positive change in racial relations in St. Adrienne. He is married, with two children. He is a paragon of strength, character, and courage.
However, Martin is haunted by a past in which he has made mistakes. Before he found God and his voice as an advocate for his people, Martin had fathered three children by a woman, Johanna, on the old Reno Plantation. Denying responsibility for his family because of his immaturity and his perceived lack of opportunity, Martin sent his children and their mother away. The last time he saw them was when his running buddy Chippo Simon took them away from the plantation in a wagon. Although he well remembers Johanna's name, he cannot even remember the names of his children. And he has eased his conscience over the mistakes of his past by the sacrifices he has made for his community.
Gaines, in a deeply introspective novel, examines the effects of the past on present. He asks whether there is ever a point when one's public actions counterbalance one's private sins.
The pivotal event occurs in the first chapter when a thin young black man shows up on the steps of a boarding house claiming to be Robert X, "one of them," a Black Muslim. The landlady, Virginia, is suspicious of the young man. Yet her conscience will not allow her to turn him away. Where will he go, if she does, she asks herself. Virginia recognizes that something is wrong with the young man, but he is resolute in maintaining silence in response to her questions.
Over the coming days, Robert X is frequently seen walking the streets of St. Adrienne. At times he is sitting on the back of Reverend Martin's church. At others he is seen standing across the street, watching the Reverend's house. When asked why he is St. Adrienne, his only answer is that he is there for a conference, that he is to meet a man.
Robert X attends a party a Phillip Martin's home with two young teachers who have been recruited in the upcoming demonstration against Chenal. Martin catches the young man staring at him and intuitively knows he is his son. As he crosses the room to acknowledge him, he falls. Immediately surrounded by concerned members of the committee, he allows a pharmacist to explain that the Reverend has exhausted himself. Martin does not refute the reason for his collapse.
Over the next few days, Martin will fail to reveal the reason for his collapse, not knowing how to disclose his past. Essentially he denies his son three times as Peter denied Christ.
Only when he receives word that his son has been picked up by the Parrish Sheriff, Nolan, does he take action. Going to see the Sheriff, Martin offers to pay bail for the release of his son. Nolan is surprised that the good Reverend has had a family out of wedlock. Nolan knows of Friday's plan to demonstrate against Chenal. He refuses to take money for bail. He will release Martin's son only on the condition that Martin put a stop to the Chenal demonstration. In a moment of personal weakness, Martin makes the deal.
On obtaining his son's release, they can share no conversation. Ultimately Robert tells Martin that he has come there for revenge for what Martin had allowed to happen to his family by abandoning them.
"Revenge? Phillip asked him. "Revenge for what?"
"For destroying me. For making me the eunuch I am. For destroying my family: my mama, my brother, my sister."
"How did I destroy you, destroy the family?" Phillip grabbed his arm. The boy looked down at the hand a moment, then pried it loose and slammed it back.
"You my Son," Phillip said. "I have my rights. I can touch you if I want."
"I'm a moment of your lust," the boy said.
By evening word has spread through members of the Civil Rights Committee that Martin has betrayed his people's cause for reasons of personal interest. A quorum of the Committee votes Martin out as President of the Committee.
Speaking with his wife, Alma, Martin says:
"What brought my boy back here, or what sent him back here I'll find out in Baton Rouge. That's important to me. I want to reach my boy. What I did this morning it seems like it's wrong to a lot of people, but if he was in that jail right now, and that was all I had to offer, I'd do it all over again. I've paid some dues in this town, some heave dues. Your life's been threatened, my children's lives been threatened, mine been threatened. All because I kept pushing for the people out there. Crosses burnt on my lawn, my house been shot in, my church been shot up--all because I kept pushing for the people out there. Well, this morning I pushed a little bit for myself, and I don't care what the people think."
Martin sets out on a search for his old friend Chippo Simon. Only Chippo might have been in a position to have seen his family. Martin must know what happened to his family in order to repair some form of bond with his own son whose name he cannot even remember.
Martin finds Chippo who reluctantly tells Martin the story of what happened to his family after he had sent them away. It is Chippo who tells him the name of his children and that Robert is actually Etienne. The things endured by Johanna and her children are almost to painful to tell. And it is a story that brings Martin's past crashing around his years.
I have deliberately excluded the details of what happened to Martin's first family. I will only say that the consequences of his past actions are not yet complete, and that Martin must question his reputation, his present life, his current family through the eyes of a man fully cognizant of what he has done throughout his life. Gaines drives home the point that a man's integrity in the treatment of family, no matter when sired, is a factor figured in to the action of public leadership and one's own self esteem.
Ah, Phillip, if only you had told Etienne, when he needed to hear it, you had many rooms in your home--for him.
This is the fourth novel by Gaines I have read. With each work, I am drawn to his novels more strongly than before. As with each of his books I have read, I recommend In My Father's House without reservation.
Ernest Gaines loves music. He has a collection of over five hundred albums, yes, albums, before vinyl became cool again. He enjoys classical, jazz, big band; but his music as he describes it is the Blues. Here's a selection from some of his favorite blues singers.
Want to take a trip to the Rough South? Let Harry Crews take you down to Mystic, Georgia, for the annual Rattlesnake Roundup, a dark mixture of booze, sex, football, and violence, in his eighth novel, A Feast of Snakes.
First Edition, Atheneum, New York, 1976
Mystic, Georgia, is basically a dot on the map these days, located in Irwin County, with a population of 229.
At twenty-one Joe Lon Mackey is a has been. The former Boss Snake of the town's high school Rattlers, a mean football machine, could have played anywhere he wanted except for one thing. He wasn't a good student. Though a star on the grid, and over the hood of head cheerleader Berenice Sweet's Corvette, Joe Lon scored on a regular basis, Joe Lon wasn't accepted to any college.
"That's the way they all put it in Mystic: Joe Lon Mackey is not a good student. But it was worse than that and they all knew it. It had never been established exactly if Joe Lon could read. Most of the teachers at Mystic High who had been privileged to have him in their classrooms thought he probably couldn't. But they liked him anyway, even loved him, loved tall, blond, high school All-American Joe Lon Mackey whose exceptional quietness off the playing field everybody chose to call courtesy."
Berenice has moved on to the University of Georgia. Her younger sister Hard Candy is head majorette at the high school and goes with the new Boss Snake Willard Miller. Though three years younger, Willard is Joe Lon's best buddy. It's Joe Lon's link to his glory days.
Joe Lon's real life makes him want to howl. He has married Elfie who started out pretty enough, but after he's put two babies in her belly one after the other, Elfie has lost that girlish appeal. Their two boys constantly wail, and Joe Lon had rather be anywhere other than their double wide. Elfie is the target of Joe Lon's constant emotional abuse and, at times, physical.
Big Joe Lon was the town bootlegger. Little Joe Lon has been allowed to take over the business. He spends his days selling shine and unlabeled bonded whiskey. The big money comes once a year when the Rattlesnake Roundup rolls around.
Joe Lon bought ten acres of land, turning it into a trailer and campsite. The Roundup started out small, but through the years, the word has gotten around. Thousands of snake loving hunters and snake curious tourists descend on Mystic and Joe Lon's camp ground.
A typical snake pit at a rattlesnake roundup
The Roundup is a macabre gathering of grotesques and freaks, not that the citizens of Mystic are much less so than their visitors. Old Joe Lon trains fighting pit bulls. The training is cruel. His daughter Beeder has sealed herself off in her room, abandoning the real world for a television set.
Sheriff Buddy Matlow, a veteran of the Vietnam War, has a peg leg and a sense of entitlement. If a woman doesn't put out, he locks her up on a trumped up charge until she does. Joe Lon's bootlegging operation is off limits. The sheriff drinks for free at the gas station that covers the liquor business. But his predatory sexual practices will exact rough justice when he chooses the wrong woman to mess with and pushes her over the limits of sanity.
As the hunters and tourists gather for the roundup, Joe Lon sees his chance for a return to the glory days when Berenice comes home from the University of Georgia. The one problem is she's brought a new boyfriend, Adam Shepherd, who is on the debate team. But one glance at her former Boss Snake is all it takes when Joe Lon orders her to assume a four point stance.
Got it? Berenice understood perfectly.
Crews writes rough as a cob. He's out to shock and he does it. Crews' detractors have accused him of relying on broadly drawn southern stereotypes. But he hasn't. Characterization is Crews' strong point. Throw in perfect pitch dialog and you have a fierce and angry Southern Gothic novel.
In structuring "A Feast of Snakes" Crews divided the novel into two parts. In the first, Crews has Joe Lon Mackey seeking a nostalgic return to the days of his past fame. In the second, Joe Lon deals with the reality of his present life and contemplates what the future holds.
Flannery O'Connor wrote:
"When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs as you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock, to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures."
Crews follows O'Connor's formula to perfection. The conclusion to "A Feast of Snakes" shocks, shouts, and paints a canvas of hellish violence reminiscent of Hieronymous Bosch. Joe Lon is a monster. However, he is a monster that Crews so artfully portrays, the reader is mesmerized, and perhaps a bit empathetic.
The Earthly Delights aren't all they're cracked up to be.
No Orchids For Miss Blandish: James Hadley Chase's First Novel
"I'm ashamed of myself. I'm a person without any background, any character or any faith
No Orchids For Miss Blandish: James Hadley Chase's First Novel
"I'm ashamed of myself. I'm a person without any background, any character or any faith. Some people could cope with this because they believe in God. I haven't believed in anything except having a good time.” She clenched and unclenched her fists, then she looked up; her fixed smile made Fenner feel bad." Miss Blandish to Dave Fenner
I'm quite sure that my rating might have been a bit higher had I actually been reading No Orchids For Miss Blandish as James Hadley Chaseoriginally wrote it in 1939. However, having difficulty finding a copy, I thought I would be pleased with the copy I downloaded on my Kindle. Pictured is the 1951 Harlequin paperback edition. Though I have reason to doubt that even that contains the content of that edition.
I found myself distracted by anachronisms appearing throughout the edition I read. In a novel written in 1939, Slim Grisson has two televisions to which he is glued for hours at a time. During a climactic chase scene, the police use a helicopter to track down Slim and Miss Blandish. Once again, the television enters the picture with law enforcement having the networks to broadcast the facts of Slim's escape and a request that anyone with information call in to aid in his apprehension.
For a comparison between the various editions of "No Orchids for Miss Blandish," I highly recommend http://www.jottings.ca/john/kelly/sba... , containing an in depth analysis of the novel, its various editions, and its critical reception, compiled by Ernest Kelly.
First edition, the genuine article.
Chase, the Author, and the writing of "No Orchids for Miss Blandish
James Hadley Chase (24 December 1906 – 6 February 1985)
Chase was born René Lodge Brabazon Raymond. Chase was but a number of pseudonyms under which he wrote ninety novels. He served in the RAF during World War II, allegedly arising to the rank of Squadron Leader. That appears the stuff of legend, possibly fostered by Chase himself.
Professionally he was a wholesale bookseller. He became intrigued with the American Gangsters, particularly those working in the midwest, rather than the large syndicates out of New York and Chicago.
Using maps and a dictionary of American Slang, Chase claimed to have written "No Orchids" in six days. Other sources indicate the span was over twelve days. But one cannot discount how prolific an author Chase became.
"No Orchids for Miss Blandish" appears to be a blend of Ma Barker and her gang of sons, and the very basic plot line of Sanctuary by William Faulkner.
Ma Barker, such a sweet face. She died with a Thompson in her hands in 1935.
Miss Blandish, whose first name we never know, the stand in for Faulkner's Temple Drake, is the daughter of millionaire John Blandish. Celebrating her engagement to a suitable young gentleman, her father bestows on his daughter a diamond necklace worth $50,000.
Movie Poster for "The Story of Temple Drake," starring Miriam Hopkins
A small time gang, Riley, Bailey, and "Old Sam" take on a job to big for their outfit and kidnap Miss Blandish. During the snatch, Bailey murders Miss Blandish's fiance'. If they're caught, it's the chair for all of them.
But not to worry, Eddie Schulz, a member of Ma Grisson's gang, spots the Riley gang and recognizes Miss Blandish. In the world of gangsters, the more powerful group wipes out the inept bunch who initially snatched Miss Blandish.
Ma Grisson is ecstatic. The blame can be put on the Riley gang. While the Grisson's can reap the benefit and collect a million dollar ransom from John Blandish.
There's only one fly in the ointment. That's Ma's beloved son, Slim, a , shall we say, deranged, depraved, and psychotic killer. Slim's never had a girlfriend. He claims Miss Blandish as his own, bucking Ma's authority for the first time in his life, even pulling a knife on Ma. There's a change of authority in the gang that takes place before the reader's eyes.
Of course, Miss Blandish is not the type of young woman to have anything to do with someone like Slim, who has greasy stringy hair and has a tendency to wear dirty clothes. Ma engages the services of Doc Williams to drug Miss Blandish so Slim can work out his repressions to his heart's content.
Enter Dave Fenner, Chase's PI. Fenner is a former crime beat reporter for a newspaper. He's the best, with connections to the underworld and a gift for digging up information. John Blandish retains Fenner with a $3,000.00 check and a future payoff of $30,000.00 should he find the men responsible for kidnapping his daughter. He's convinced that his daughter is dead. He wants the men that killed her.
Though never critically lauded, Chase became the king of the European thriller. Chase's plotting keeps the reader to keep flipping the pages to see what happens next.
I found the dialog attributable to Chase having watched to many Jimmy Cagney movies. "Yeah, Copper, come n' get me. Top of the World Ma!"
Characterization is sparse, though Chase clearly outlines Fenner more clearly with future Fenners in mind.
"No Orchids for Miss Blandish" has been staged in England, was filmed in England in 1948, and refilmed as "The Grissom Gang" in the United States by Robert Aldrich in 1971. Though I've not seen it, the reviews I've read are highly favorable.
Movie Poster for the 1948 English Film
Movie Poster for the American re-make, 1971
So, am I done with Chase? Maybe not. Not if I can get hold of the genuine article not "updated" for the modern reader.
A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion of Books, First Ed., First Prtg
As I have frankly admitted elsewhere, I am a literary stalker. Harmless, of course. I'm a pacifist for the most part.
There are those whose works I must have. The copies of their works must be pristine, neither slanted or cocked. Nothing other than a first printing will do. I must meet the authors of these marvelous works. An impersonally signed edition simply will not do. I am somewhat snobbish in addition to having descended to the covert art of stalking. You may read of my exploits concerning my tracking of Clyde Edgerton here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....
The Unsuspecting Clyde Edgerton
Of course, there are far more subtler methods of obtaining the coveted signed edition--The Book Festival, The Book Tour, The uncertain order from an unfamiliar Bookseller on line, a rather less than comforting gambit. This leads to the oft mis-graded edition, the inscribed, rather than signed edition. I frankly do not care for a volume inscribed "For your birthday Betty, Best Wishes Renowned Author who has no idea in Hell who Betty is and is unlikely to share a slice of cake with said Betty. There is the tried and true method of relying on your goodreads friends to have your editions signed if you get there's signed. This has been the Sullivan/Keeten approach on occasion. But at the end of reasoning through all the methods considered more rational, one must resort to less conventional methods.
The inevitable conclusion is that we and our own beloved authors have only so much time on this earth. Time's winged chariot, and all that unpleasant business.
Then I found the ideal literary stalker's weapon, excuse me--reference source placed in my hands. Bless Ronald Rice, the editor of this especially useful and beautiful little book. It bears such an innocent and gentle appearance, too. Just look at it. Little would one realize that contained within the pages of this literary stalker's manifesto are eighty-four, yes, count them, essays by the poor unsuspecting authors revealing their favorite places to browse, read, and shop. Yes, the actual locations of these businesses are contained in this book. And these bookstores and their owners have a special place in the hearts of these writers. They show up there a lot. Yes, this is the ultimate stake out manual for those in search of the signed edition.
For you, oh fortunate reader, the bookstore of your favorite author could be in your own city. Or in a location within the distance of a brief drive. Or, you could hook up the GPS and set out on the ultimate quest. Eighty-four authors, eighty-four bookstores, eighty-four cities. Confess. You've always believed in the quest for the Holy Grail. Here's your ticket to ride.
Me, I have my eye on Purple Crow Books, Hillsborough, North Carolina. That happens to be the favorite books shop of Lee Smith, on whom I've had a crush since high school when she was a reporter at the Tuscaloosa News. I still consider her a most beautiful woman. And, by the way, Hillsborough happens to be the home of twenty-seven North Carolina authors. Well, I'm headed in that direction on December 21st, 2012. I'm on a quest.
First you read the essay, then you google the store. Voila!
Why, Ms. Smith. Imagine meeting you here! Would you like a cup of tea? We met at Jake's in Homewood. Yes, you signed my copy of Fancy Strut
Oh, I have my first signature. It is Rick Bragg, signature only, on the title page, purchased at his and my favorite bookstore, "The Alabama Booksmith," in Homewood, Alabama. And, it is my bookstore, too. I had my favorite bookseller, Jake Reiss, sign it, too. Consider having your favorite booksellers signing the sections on their marvelous shops. After all, what would we do without them, too?
This is a solid Five Star Reference for great bookstores. Keep this one in your suitcase as you travel. You just never know who you might meet. ...more
Their Eyes Were Watching God: Zora Neale Hurston's Novel of an Independent Woman
"Dat's all right, Pheoby, tell 'em. Dey gointuh make 'miration 'causeTheir Eyes Were Watching God: Zora Neale Hurston's Novel of an Independent Woman
"Dat's all right, Pheoby, tell 'em. Dey gointuh make 'miration 'cause mah love didn't work lak they love, if dey ever had any. Then you must tell 'em dat love ain't somethin' lak uh grindstone dat's de same thing everywhere and do de same thing tuh everything it touch. Love is lak de sea. It's uh movin' thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it's different with every shore."
"Lawd!" Phoeby breathed out heavily, "Ah done growed ten feet higher from jus' listenin' tuh you, Janie. Ah ain't satisfied wid mahself no mo...Nobody better not criticize yuh in mah hearin'."
I express my gratitude to Members of the goodreads group "On the Southern Literary Trail" for having made Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston novel one of our reads for December, 2012. A number of readers have indicated they read this novel at least once a year. It is highly probable that I will join their ranks. For it has already joined my list of favorite books.
Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)
Zora Neale Hurstonpublished Their Eyes Were Watching God in 1937. Consider it a marvel for its time. For it is clearly the first feminist literature by a black author about a woman in search of herself, her voice, and love on her own terms.
Their Eyes Were Watching God, First Ed., J.B. Lippincott, 1937
Janie Crawford is Hurston's protagonist. Her road to independence is a difficult one. At the age of thirteen, she recognizes the attraction of the opposite sex for the first time. However, her grandmother warns her that sex is a trap for a black woman and only a temporary pleasure. Love, Nanny says, is "de very prong all us black women gits hung on. Dis love! Dat's just whut's got us uh pulln' and uh haulin' and sweatin' and doin' from can't see in de mornin' till can't see at night."
To Janie's horror, Nanny has arranged a marriage to for Janie to Logan Killick, a farmer with a home and sixty acres of land. To Nanny, who had been a slave, Killick represents security for her granddaughter, who was a child of rape. Nanny's daughter had been raped by her school teacher, lost herself in a bottle and disappeared. To Nanny, Killick is Janie's ticket to rocking on the porch while Killick provides for her.
Janie assents to her Nanny's wishes. Killick, at first, does cater to his young bride. She is a beauty, with thick hair that hangs down her back. Her breasts, buttocks, and legs would attract any man's attention. However, Killick prefers a helpmate rather than a bedmate. He tells Janie he is going to leave home for a day to buy a mule. He intends to put Janie behind a plow to help him plow his land.
Enter Jody Stark, a dapperly dressed man, big, handsome, and carrying the promise of sexual romance. He would never put Janie behind a plow. She is a woman to be waited upon. Stark lures her to leave Killick and marry him, also tempting her with travel to Eatonville, Florida, a town built by and for black people. Janie did not consider Stark her ideal, thinking ""he did not represent sun-up and pollen and blooming trees, but he spoke for far horizon. He spoke for change and chance."
Eatonville, Orange Co. Florida, was the first town founded by blacks following the Emancipation in 1863. It was incorporated in 1887. Zora Neale Hurston grew up there.
Only after Janie has married Stark does she consider the eroticism of their relationship in the bedroom, believing "from now on until death she was going to have flower dust and springtime sprinkled over everything. A bee for her bloom".
Stark becomes a store owner, buys additional acreage for the town and is ultimately elected mayor. He depends on Janie to operate the store while he politics around town. But he does not expect her to have a share of the political podium. Worse, he becomes jealous of Janie after he sees a constituent reach out to softly touch the braid of hair hanging down her back, of which Janie is not even aware. Thereafter, Jody orders Janie that she must conceal her hair under a head rag in public. Nor is she to speak publicly on the issues he deals with as mayor.
There is no more flower dust or springtime sprinkled over everything. There is no bee for her bloom. She is only freed by Jody's death from kidney failure, a problem he sought to treat through an herb doctor although Janie had sought a medical doctor for him. Janie is left a wealthy widow.
Janie finds that flower dust and springtime over everything with Tea Cake, a man twelve years younger than her. However, time has been kind to Janie Crawford Killick Stark. Tea Cake Woods tells her that her age makes no difference to him, that she is the only woman for him and for her he will give her the keys to the kingdom. Tea Cake is the charmer, the joker, the musician, the blues singer, and the wandering gambler. He is Janie's route to adventure. She is his willing companion every step. When he proposes they head south to the Glades to grow vegetables, Janie wants nothing more.
Lake Okechobee and the Glades
But even Tea Cake is subject to jealousy when it comes to Janie's beauty. The Turners' have a restaurant in the Glades. Mrs. Turner, a light skinned black, is drawn to Janie for her light complexion. She scorns Tea Cake for being too black and offers to introduce her brother to Janie. Janie's not interested. But when Tea Cake gets word that Mrs. Turner is up to introducing someone to take his Janie away from him, he beats her, where the marks show. He frankly admits she had done nothing, but it was necessary that others, especially the Turner's knew he had control of the situation.
Hurston's novel builds to a tempestuous climax as a hurricane approaches the Glades. The bean crop is coming in. The pay is $8.00 a day. Tea Cake says they would be fools to leave. They ignore the lines of Seminole Indians walking to the east away from Lake Okechobee. I will only say that Hurston takes her title from the fact that those who remained in the face of the hurricane, listening to the winds swirling around their farmers' shacks were watching to see if their walls and roofs would withstand the force of God. No spoilers here. This is a book that you have to read.
Ironically, Hurston's magnificent novel was rejected by literary critics, particularly those male members of the Harlem Renaissance. The most stinging criticism came from Richard Wright who claimed Hurston had created a work which portrayed blacks in a manner to allow whites to laugh at them, particularly using realistic black idiomatic dialog. Neither Wright or his contemporary male authors recognized Hurston's accomplishment of portraying one woman's journey to independence. Perhaps that aim was no more important to them than it was and remains for many men.
Zorah Hurston fell into obscurity by 1950. At the time her last short story was published, she was working as a maid. She worked at menial jobs, and as a substitute teacher. Ultimately she was drawing welfare benefits when she suffered a stroke and was placed in the St. Lucie County Welfare Home. She died January 28, 1960, and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Garden of Heavenly Rest.
Alice Walker began teaching "Their Eyes Were Watching God" in her classes in 1971. In 1973, with the help of a colleague, Walker discovered Zorah Hurston's grave and had a monument erected.
Zorah Neale Hurston's final resting place
"“Two things everybody's got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin' fuh theyselves.”
He Died with His Eyes Open: Derek Raymond's Novel of Who Speaks for the Dead who Don't Matter
From the Reviewer
First Edition, Abacus Press, 1984
DerekHe Died with His Eyes Open: Derek Raymond's Novel of Who Speaks for the Dead who Don't Matter
From the Reviewer
First Edition, Abacus Press, 1984
Derek Raymond was the pen name of English writer Robin Cook, 1931-1994. When he began writing the Factory novels in 1984, he took the pen name to avoid confusion with the American author Robin Cook, known for his medical mystery thrillers. However, it remained a confusing matter because the European releases maintained the name "Robin Cook."
Robin Cook, AKA Derek Raymond
However, were you to pick up a European "Robin Cook" you would quickly realize that you had entered a different world. The only thing sterile in a Derek Raymond novel is the medical examiner's office. Consider this the creation of the English Noir Novel. Raymond's work depicts the down and out, the unwanted, and the unloved. The killers are brutal. The Sergeant of Raymond's "Factory" novels is capable of equal viciousness, though he does not readily appear to possess that characteristic.
The ends of Justice require the means to which Raymond's protagonist resorts. As we follow the Sergeant through his investigation, the question is whether it is a duty to enforce the law or has the Sergeant become an avenger of the dead. Raymond pushes our face into a rough version of John Donne's Meditation that, indeed, no man is an island, but a piece of the continent, and that any man's death is bound to be recognized by society, no matter his standing in it.
This is the first of five "Factory" novels. He Died With His Eyes Open was filmed as "On ne meurt que 2 fois" by Jaques Deray in 1985.
Oh, my...Charlotte Rampling, as Barbara
"Though Staniland had died at the age of fifty-one, he still had the innocence of a child of six. The naive courage, too--the desire to understand everything, whatever the cost.
This fragile sweetness at the core of people--if we allowed that to be kicked, smashed and splintered, then we had no society at all of the kind I felt I had to uphold. I had committed my own sins against it, out of transient weakness.
...I knew I had to nail the killers."
Meet the unnamed Sergeant of Division A14 of the Metropolitan London Police Department, better known as the Department of Unexplained Deaths. Well, it's a rather dead end position in law enforcement, don't you see? These unexplained deaths are of those people that don't matter. Their absence makes only the slightest ripple on the surface of life to justify their existence. You get tucked into A14, you'll not ever leave there above the rank of Sergeant. Nor will you be on the telly. And it's highly unlikely to find your case or your name in the papers.
A NOTE FROM THE SERGEANT
Don't you see, mate? It's quite simple. There's two kinds of dead people. Them that mattered and them that didn't. Now for those that mattered, you have the Serious Crimes Division. Now, there's the road to reputation and recognition, solving how a stiff that mattered got shuffled off his mortal coil. And you can be guaranteed that you solve those tough ones that's where you'll find your sodding promotions and your face on the telly and in the papers.
But sometimes, just sometimes, mind you, you find out there was a brain in that body that had some of the same feelings and thoughts you yourself had. You recognize him, you know? And this time it's all the easier to come to know Charles Stanisland. He was a writer. And when he wasn't writing he was recording his thoughts on life, love, the very nature of existence and whether there was any point to it at all. You listen and listen and listen, and it's almost as if you can become the man.
You know, if Charles Stanisland had got himself topped before he sold his inheritance to his younger brother Grumpian for pence on the pound, he would have been considered a serious crime. And there would be my fine colleague Inspector Bowman moving sharply up the ranks handling his case.
But there you have a fellow, down on his luck, in the bottle, in the rack with a woman, Barbara, who cannot or will not feel love and he keeps on and on trying to win something she can never give him. And there you have Charles Stanisland dumped dead, beaten to a pulp, and sliced with a blade. It took more than one to do for Charles Stanisland.
I really don't give a damn if I ever leave A14. It's a job, you know? A duty. To explain a death and wave the bloody facts in the face of the world whether it gives a fuck or not. You want to know my name? What for? You just call me Sergeant. That's what I do. You may not find my methods pretty or proper or conduct becoming. Come to think of it, I just may scare the Hell out of you as much as the ones that topped Stanisland.
THE REVIEWER WRAPS UP
Reading Raymond is akin to watching a Sam Peckinpaugh film completely in slow motion with every detail of violence flowing around the viewer to the extent the moviegoer checks his clothes for blood spatter evidence. There is a terrible beauty in the writing of Derek Raymond from which it is impossible to pull yourself away.
My thanks to the goodreads group Pulp Fiction for yet another stunning read. ...more
When Gaine's novel was filmed as a television movie in 1974 sales mushroomed with the issue of the mass-market Bantam Paperback tie-in edition. Cicely Tyson played the title role from approximately age 23 to 110. The production garnered nine Emmy Awards, including Best Actress for Ms. Tyson.
Cicely Tyson portrayed a century of the life of Miss Jane Pittman
I was a first year law student when "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" first aired. I was twenty-two years old. But it was thirty-eight years later, as a sixty year old man, before I read the novel. It was the Bantam movie tie-in edition I read, after checking it out of my local public library.
Now that check-outs and check-ins are digitized, it is no longer possible to see how often a book has been checked out, or when it was read. But you can still tell from the condition of a book when it has passed through generations of hands. The spine was loose, bowed from having been placed down many times, and the cover had a distinct curl indicating one or readers had been cover and page benders, turning what had been read to the back of the volume. Previous readers had dog-eared the pages. Others had underlined passages, some times in pencil, some times in ink. Inevitably the same passages had been marked more than once, starred, underscored in different colors, but clearly having some impact on many readers.
But I was not one of them. I was born and raised in Alabama. No book by an African-American author appeared as a part of my curriculum through high school. While I was raised by my mother and family to "Sir" and "Ma'am" any person, no matter the color of their skin, neither had they ever been exposed to African American literature of any sort. It was only in college that I was introduced to Charles W. Chestnutt,briefly, by my favorite literature professor O.B. Emerson, during his Southern Literature Course which I took in 1973.
I knew of the injustice suffered by Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird and idolized Atticus Finch because he fought for justice for an innocent man. I read The Confessions of Nat Turner, was furious at the thought of slavery, but wondered why the story was written by a white man, William Styron. It occurred to me to ask if I were a literary racist.
But I wondered where were the male writers? Surely there was someone other than Chestnutt. Oh, I could read Booker T. Washington, and Frederick Douglass. I have their books. But I wanted someone more contemporary. And then, thanks to a member of our goodreads group On the Southern Literary Trail there he was. Ernest J. Gaines.
Ernest J. Gaines, an author I'm grateful to have discovered
My reading of Gaines has not followed my usual practice. I've read him as I've found him. First came A Lesson Before Dying, then A Gathering of Old Men, and now The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Each has affected me deeply, but I chose to share my thoughts regarding Jane Pittman because of the magnificent voice of the protagonist and the sweep of history seen through the eyes of one person, with the assistance of those who shared parts of their lives with her and lived around her.
Gaines structures his novel as a series of interviews of Jane Pittman conducted by an unseen and unnamed teacher of history. The "Teacher" emerges much as Homer does in The Odyssey, calling on Jane Pittman to tell of her personal odyssey to freedom from the final days of her life as a slave during the American Civil War up to the Civil Rights Movement of the early 1960s.
A Note From The Teacher
"I had been trying to get Miss Jane Pittman to tell me her story of her life for several years now, but each time I asked her she told me there was no story to tell. I told her she was over a hundred years old, she had been a slave in this country so there had to be a story..."
From the Interviews of Miss Jane Pittman
The Teacher told me he wouldn't take no for an answer. So I asked him when he wanted to get started. He had one of those recorders. One thing led to something else. Sometimes I wasn't able to remember. But there were all those of my people around me who were my memory when it was gone. The Teacher said it was all our story. I guess it was.
When you are born a slave like I was you don't own anything. Not even your ma'am and Pap get to name you. The Mistress named me Ticey. I didn't start out as Jane Pittman.
It was near the end of the war. The Secesh come through. Mistress told me to take water out to them. One boy said if it was up to him, he would let the niggers go, but it wasn't up to him.
Then the Yankees came on following the Secesh. It was a Yankee soldier gave me his daughter's own name, Jane Brown. He told me after the war to come see him in Ohio. When Mistress called me Ticey, I told her I wasn't Ticey anymore, I was Jane Brown. She had Master hold me down and she beat me with a cat-o-nine tales an' put me to work in the fields.
I don't even know what happened to my Pap. I barely remember my Ma'am. They killed her when I was bout five.
It was more than a year after the war Master told us we was emancipated. We could stay but he couldn't pay us nothin'. But we could work on shares. It was slavery all over again. About half of us left. Big Laura you'd call the leader. She carried her baby daughter. I watched after her boy Ned. We didn't know where we was goin' or how we was goin' to live. We only knew we were free at last.
Then one day the Patrollers found us. They was like the Ku Klux. They killed ever one of us except me n' Ned. I had been able to keep him quiet. I found big Laura. Them men had even killed Laura's girl child.
I made up my mind I was gonna get to Ohio no matter what. Ned, he took two stones, flint stones from his Ma'am. He carried them with him wherever he went. I guess it was his way of remembering his Ma'am. But I think ever time he struck them rocks together what he was makin' was the spark of freedom Laura had wanted for him n' ever body else.
Each day we walked. But we was still in Luzanna. I hung on to finding freedom in Ohio until one night we came up on the house of an old white man. He had been a sailor at one point in his life. He had maps ever where in his house. He told me I'd have to cross Mississippi or up through Arkansas n' I might take my whole life gettin' to Ohio. He told me he could be Secesh or he could be a friend of my people. You know I think he was a friend of my people. He could jus' as easy told me sure you take on off for Ohio.
So I decided to stay in Luzanna n' find my freedom there some day. I took work on a plantation. Ned was in a school. I never looked on Ned as mine until his teacher had him read his lesson to me n' I was so proud of him I loved him as if he were my own.
The only good that come to my people after the war was when the Beero showed up. We were freed men and women. But it didn't last. The North made up with the South, and those northern businessmen came down South to make money with the white businessmen. It was slavery all over again.
A Branch of the Freedmen's Bureau
The years went on n' Ned went off to Kansas to find an education. I took Joe Pittman, the horse breaker on the plantation as my husband. I couldn't have chilren of my own. The doctor said I had been beat so bad when I was still a slave I had been hurt inside.
There was no horse Joe couldn't break. A big rancher hired him to come out to Texas n' made Joe, a black man, his head horse man. But there's always a horse a man can't break. I lost Joe. N' from then on I was just Miss Jane Pittman.
I went back to Luzanna. My Ned came home from Kansas. He was full of ideas. He had been down to Cuba in that Spanish American War. He talked about not holdin' with the Booker T. Washington sayin' that the black people needed to stay off from the white folks, work hard and stand on there on. He took after the ideas of Frederick Douglas n' said that this world was for all folks black n' white. He was a teacher. I still remember hearin' him talkin' to the chilren on the plantation. He said, "This earth is yours and don’t let that man out there take it from you."
Booker T. Washington
Now there was a Cajun named Albert Cluveau. He would sit on my porch n' talk. He'd drink tea with me, n' we'd go fishin together' sometimes. Albert would talk about killin' like it was nuthin'. Albert told me if Ned didn't stop his teachin' n' leave, he'd been told to kill him. N' he said he'd do what he was told to do.
Ned wouldn't leave. Even knowin' he was going to die. One night Albert Cluveau met my Ned on the road n' shot him through the chest with a shot gun. Black people have had to fight for whatever they ever got. Ned would never quit. But I sure miss him.
There was more wars. There's always wars. I thought after all our young men fought the Germans n' Japanese things might be changin'. There was even a black man played baseball for the Dodgers. I never missed Jackie Robinson when he was playin' for the Dodgers. But things hadn't really changed.
Miss Jane's favorite ball player, Jackie Robinson
We had a young man named Jimmy. He was the son of sharecroppers on the plantation. We all thought he might be The One, who would grow up n' make a difference for our people. We wanted him to make a preacher or a teacher.
Jimmy went off to school. He got in with young Fred Shuttlesworth and that young preacher Martin Luther King, Jr. They sent him back home to us. He told us we hadn't even begun to fight in Luzanna.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Jimmy asked us all to meet him at the Courthouse the next mornin', gonna get us some civil rights. I plan on goin'. He reminds me a lot of my Ned. But Albert Cluveau's been long dead. I'm not sure if I'm 110 or I'm a 111, but freedom's been a long time comin'.
"Some people have asked me whether or not The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is fiction or nonfiction. It is fiction. When Dial Press first sent it out, they did not put "a novel" on the galleys or on the dustjacket, so a lot of people had the feeling that it could have been real. ...I did a lot of research in books to give some facts to what Miss Jane could talk about, but these are my creations. I read quite a few interviews performed with former slaves by the WPA during the thirties and I got their rhythm and how they said certain things. But I never interviewed anybody."
Well, he could have fooled me. Ironically, as I finish this review, "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" is on the television. I am watching it thirty-eight years after I first saw it. It is good. However, it cannot match the power of the seamless narrative of Gaines' powerful novel.
As for that battered paperback I checked out of our library, I've bought a new trade edition to go on the shelves. It will be a clean slate for others to begin underlining the passages they love and to make their own notes. Periodically, I'll check on that book and see how things are coming along. There's still a lot of life left in the story of Jane Pittman. For us all. Thank you, Mr. Gaines.
A New Book For the Library
October 31, 2014
I met Ernest J. Gaines at the Louisiana Festival of the Book. He smiled at the first editions I handed him. "It's been a long time since I've seen one of these," he said as he opened my first edition of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. He smiled, looking at the original editions of his novels. I offered him my fountain pen. He carefully signed each copy, nodding, as he looked at each one. His signature was sure and strong. Gaines was a gracious man, thanking me for sharing my books with him. "No. Professor Gaines, thank you."
He handed me my pen. He extended his hand. I took his in mine. His grip was sure and steady. We shook on our exchange.
I asked if he minded if we could be photographed during our meeting. "Why, no," he said. A young woman behind me took my camera, and clicked away.
It was a very memorable day. Read Ernest J. Gaines. This book, and every one you come across. You will find, as I did, Gaines is one of America's true literary icons.
Tomato Red: Daniel Woodrell's Tale of Leaving Home
Welcome to West Table, Missouri. Meet Sammy Barlach who's just hired on down at the dog food factoryTomato Red: Daniel Woodrell's Tale of Leaving Home
Welcome to West Table, Missouri. Meet Sammy Barlach who's just hired on down at the dog food factory. It's Friday night. The Tequila and Meth have got Sammy flying, impressing new friends down at the bar. Wanting to fit in with the new gang, when one suggests Sammy burgle one of the town mansions, Sammy's up for it. But he hears the laughter of his new buddies and the roar of their pickup recede in the distance when they drop him off at his next crime scene.
Sammy manages to get inside and stay awake just long enough to recognize that the rich live a Helluva lot better than he does. But the problem with Meth is that although it will keep you going for days, ultimately you crash and Sammy crashes in someone else's house. Not a good thing--his rap sheet shows he's in for some long time away at the State pen if he's caught.
I fell deep down in there, until this bright light raised me from sleep. Coming out of a pit such as that, you think the bright light could be God or a cop on patrol;...then my eyes got right and it was just a candle held in front of my face by a girl in a black gown with jewelry twinkling here and there and a young fella in a tuxedo that swallowed him, smoking a heavy white pipe with a face design sculpted around the bowl.
'Are you dangerous? the girl asked. 'You look dangerous.'
..."He just might do," the fella said. "He's got that 'born to lose and lose violently' air about him. "That's good."
Meet Jamalee and Jason Merridew, brother and sister, pranksters, both of them. It isn't their house either. Jamalee and Jason learn how the other half lives by breaking into the homes of the wealthy and studying their possessions.
Jamalee wants out of West Table bad. There's a better place outside West Table, outside the Ozarks. Jason is her ticket out of town. He's already a hair dresser in training down at Ramalee's Beauty Salon. He gave her that unique tomato red hair of hers, thank you very much. He's about the most gorgeous piece of man flesh in the county. All the ladies line up for Jason to shampoo their hair and purr with a contented smile on their faces while Jason's fingers massage their scalps.
The way Jamalee sees things, all she needs to do is get Jason out of town, set him up in business, the hair dressing business and the gigoloin' business and life will be easy street. The only problem is Jason is gay and isn't too keen on being a gigolo. Jamalee knows it's not easy being gay in West Table. That's the reason Sammy might be the right man to provide security for them.
When you get right down to the bottom of things though, at least around West Table, you are who you are based on where you're from. When you're the children of Bev Merridew the local prostitute a fellow can always count on when he's pinched in the crotch, and you live over in Venus Holler, the other half doesn't think you're much of anything.
Well, Sammy has no family he'll speak of, and he decides to join the Merridews. Goodhearted Bev provides beer and sympathy when she's not on business which is just fine with Sammy.
Jamalee, furthering her education, looks to take a job down at the Country Club as a server. Sammy and Jason accompany her to the club. There's not a chance in Hell Jamalee is going to get that job. She's Venus Holler trash. In revenge, Jamalee, Jason, and Sammy drive hogs over the Club's golf course during the night, ruining every hole. It's all whoopin' and hollerin' until the other half teach the folks at Venus Holler a lesson.
One of the Merridews will die. Blood money will be paid. Those who live must decide the value of a human life. And Sammy Barlach will show you just how dangerous he can be.
This is my third Woodrell read. Each has been a unique experience with narrators distinct and different in voice. There is humor here, at first light, but turning from comedy to tragedy. While Thomas Wolfe told us you can't go home again, Daniel Woodrell let's us know that sometimes it's impossible to leave it without a price too high to pay.
The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell is nominated as a group read for August, 2016, for the group On the Southern Literary Trail. The polls are open. This is just one of the exceptional nominations being considered. Interested? Drop by. Sit a spell. If you're inclined, walk the Trail with us. What would you like to read? There's always plenty to choose from along the Southern Trail. My thanks to Trail Member Carol of Cary, North Carolina for her nomination. Come join us!
Them that's got shall have Them that's not shall lose So the Bible says and it still is news Mama may have, Papa may have But God bless the child that's got his own, that's got his own
Yes the strong get smart While the weak ones fade Empty pockets don't ever make the grade Mama may have, Papa may have But God bless the child that's got his own, that's got his own
Billie Holliday and Arthur Herzog, 1939
There's no need stretching this out. Daniel Woodrell is a Hellaciously good writer. The Death of Sweet Mister is a fine dark read told through the eyes of a thirteen year old, Morris Atkins, better known as Shug, and, you guessed it, Sweet Mister.
The Death of Sweet Mister, First Edition, Putnam Adult, January 1, 2001
Once again, Woodrell sets his story in the Missouri Ozarks, often called "Little Dixie." Woodrell paints his setting with the strokes of a master. His characters come alive through dialog that cuts sharp and true.
I'm going up the country where the water tastes like wine
The Atkins family consists of Shug, mother Glenda, and Red. There is little doubt a paternity test would determine Red didn't plant the seed that produced Shug. Red has nothing but contempt for the boy. Red's blatant sexuality with Glenda hurt Shug, and in his mind, hurts his mother as well. This could well be Woodrell's tale of Oedipus in the Ozarks.
Red is an incompetent criminal, spending more time on parole, than free of any kind of supervision. He's in the joint, on parole, or headed back to the joint. Perhaps that's why he wonders when he had the time to conceive Shug.
Fat boy! You dumbshit. I'll knock fire from your ass, dig?"
..."Red, Red, my God, don't talk to our son that way--you'll get him twisted."
"Our son, my ass."
..."I wish I could add none of this happened
The Atkins secure housing in the caretaker's shack at the town cemetery. They live there in exchange for tending the grounds. But it's Shug who does the work, mowing the wide expanses with a tractor and a small lawn mower for the tight spaces. Red is out with his buddy Basil scoring all the dope they can. Glenda spends her days in an alcoholic fog, sipping on her "tea," a mixture of rum and coke.
The Green, Green, Grass of Home
Red's not so dumb. He realizes that one more bust will send him back to the pen for a very long time. The solution? Recruit Fat Boy. He's a Juvie. If he's caught, nothing will happen to him. All he has to do is to get Shug to keep his mouth shut if he is caught. And Red's a pro at that. Dig?
Shug begins his life of juvenile crime. He burglarizes the houses Red points out and steals the drugs. Red has a convenient business associate, Patty, a nurse who knows who is dying at home and on heavy medication. She's a business associate with fringe benefits. Shug confronts the dying in their homes and takes their medication, always leaving several doses. At times, Red questions the amount Shug brings to them, but he's smart enough to shrug and say that's all there was.
"Well you might see me tonight with an illegal smile"-John Prine
The inevitable happens. Shug is caught by an old man with bone cancer, but alert enough to call the police. Red is nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs and takes Shug fishing, threatening him with his life if he squeals on him and Basil.
Meanwhile, Glenda has met Jimmy Vin Pearce, a professional cook down at the Echo Club. Glenda is one of those women men turn to stare at. She has Jimmy's attention. Jimmy's shiny green Thunderbird has Glenda's. "Don't you think Jimmy would make a good Daddy," she asks Shug. "No. I think Daddies stink."
It's a big bright green pleasure machine!
Red disappears. The shack looks as though Hell broke through it. Shug looks through the shack, expecting to find bodies in the bedroom. But all he finds is a skillet with red hair stuck to it.
The Death of Sweet Mister is a rush from start to finish. Each and every voice Woodrell creates rings with authenticity. Most surprising is how deftly Woodrell handles the first person narrative of Shug. His loss of innocence is palpable as the pages turn.
Daniel Woodrell is a literary gift. His are no simple stories with happy endings. These are harsh portraits of the rough side of life and the unique people who carry the burdens of the lives they lead, some by choice and some by force.
Winter's Bone: Daniel Woodrell's Tale of When Blood is thicker than water
When I was a boy we had no Interstates. The car was not air-conditioned. A trWinter's Bone: Daniel Woodrell's Tale of When Blood is thicker than water
When I was a boy we had no Interstates. The car was not air-conditioned. A trip from Tuscaloosa to North Alabama was a twisting, turning drive through mountains and steep valleys as you drove into the northern part of the County. We traveled early to avoid the afternoon heat. The mists rose up from the valleys making the mountains look as though they grew out of clouds. My grandfather would comment on the smell of the working stills hidden in the country we passed through. Although prohibition had ended decades before, many counties, ruled by Bible thumping Southern Baptists and Methodists voted to keep their Counties free of liquor. That Jesus turned water into wine seemed to have little influence on them.
North of Tuscaloosa Co., Alabama
When I became a man and a career prosecutor, violation of the prohibited liquors statutes were few and far between. As time passed one drug after another became the most desired. But nothing compared to methamphetamine and it's staying power, and the growing volume of cases that crossed my desk.
I've met cookers, dealers and users. Users tell me that Meth gave them the greatest sex they ever had and they kept looking for the same big bang with each time they used.
I just can't get no satisfaction...Before and After on Meth
That land up north of the County is still there, though I usually bypass it by taking the Interstate now. And I can't remember the last time I was in a dry County. But that country up there sounds a lot like the setting of Winter's Bone. The people up that way are a lot a like, too. They don't talk much, especially if you're the Law or you work with the Law. I worked two killings where the bodies both ended up on the Tiger Mine Strip Pit Road. It's a God forsaken place. And by the time you find a crime scene, any car involved has been stripped and burned, and the blow flies and maggots and just about anything that walks crawls or flies has turned what was a living human being into a mess of stinking goo. That trick of putting Vick's in your nose works a little bit, but the smell of death gets into your hair, mustache, and clothes.
There's always the guilty and always the innocent. It's the innocents that got left behind that always worried me the most.
In the early Meth days, cookers hadn't got their chemistry down real well. It wasn't unusual that a cooker blew himself and his lab sky high. The place stunk to high Heaven. Not even we knew how dangerous the fumes were when we went into one of the places. But in my line of work you developed a black sense of humor. Dang. Another one got it wrong. No file to open. Breaks your heart, don't it. Yep. Sure does. Reckon he's playin' his harp. Naw. He's tunin' his fork.
After a meth lab explosion
Daniel Woodrell has written a book that I identify with on a number of levels. It's my first Woodrell. But it won't be the last. And I won't forget this book for a long, long time. Frankly, I didn't think I needed to read about a Meth cooker. However, by page four I realized Woodrell didn't care about the cooker anymore than I did. This is about the innocents that get left behind and how they must get by, if they manage to get by at all.
And this is when Woodrell hooked me:
"Walnuts were still falling when Ree saw him last. Walnuts were thumping to ground in the night like stalking footsteps of some large thing that never quite came into view, and Jessup had paced on this porch in a worried slouch, dented nose snuffling, lantern jaw smoked by beard, eyes uncertain and alarmed by each walnut thump. The darkness and those thumps out in the darkness seemed to keep him jumpy. He paced until a decision popped into his head, then started down the steps, going fast into the night before his mind could change. He said, 'Start lookin' for me soon as you see my face. 'Til then, don't even wonder."
In a few terse sentences, Daniel Woodrell has introduced you to Jessup Dolly. Dolly is telling his seventeen year old daughter, Ree, goodbye. Dolly is a man on the run. He's the best Meth cooker in the Missouri Ozarks. The law has caught up with him. Jessup has done one stretch in the pen. He doesn't want to do another. He's out on bond, putting up his family's home and timberland. He has a court appearance in a week. He doesn't tell his daughter they're going to lose their home.
Jessup leaves behind a wife, either insane or in an advancing stage of dementia, two boys, and his seventeen year old daughter Ree. When you're a meth cooker's daughter you grow up hard and you grow up fast. Ree left school at sixteen to care for her mother and two younger brothers, Sonny and Harold.
No gas for the chainsaw? Ree chops wood for the potbelly stove with the ease of a lumberjack. No food on the table? Ree can bark a squirrel flattened against a tree limb with a .22 bullet. She rarely misses. Ammunition costs money.
Ree's got plenty of family. Jessup's brother, Tear Drop, named for a penitentiary tattoo, the Miltons, and the Halsam's. Pretty much everybody is kin through some degree of marriage or cousins, removed by generation or not.
Ree is a woman in an adolescent's body. She has satisfied her sexual curiosity, exploring pleasure with her girl friend Gail Lockrum. She knows how to kiss, but is disappointed with her first kiss with a boy when she asks for his tongue and he responds, "Yuck." Her first experience is with a doper friend of her father, Little Arthur. He gave her mushrooms and told her it would make her sandwich taste much better. She feels all ooey gooey and wonders if she had only imagined it until she found her panties ripped. Yeah, a doper's daughter grows up hard and fast.
When the bondsman comes looking for Jessup at the house, he tells Ree Jessup Dolly had signed away their home and land. Ree is determined to find her father in the week she has before his court date.
On her search, Ree descends into the dark secrets of her Ozark people. Blood is not always thicker than water. Thump Milton, the patriarch of the Milton clan will not help her and tells her to abandon her search. Sonny Blond Milton's extent of help is to offer to take in her younger brother Sonny, but not Harold. Seems there was a reason for Sonny being named Sonny, born while Jessup was away in prison. Ree thought Sonny never looked that much like Daddy.
Winter swirls through the mountains and valleys of the Missouri Ozarks. Ree must take shelter in a cave. An Ozark snow storm will chill you to the bone. She realizes that either she must find her father alive or dead or her family may end up living in one of those caves.
You can feel the cold in Woodrell's prose.
Yet, even Uncle Tear Drop will not help her. He takes her to a cabin destroyed by fire, a meth lab destroyed by a cook's mistake. He tells her that Jessup died there. But there is no proof of death.
Something is terribly wrong. Kin doesn't kill kin except for thievin' and...No her Dad wouldn't ever do that.
Ree is a heroine, courageous, responsible, and willing to do anything to save her family. Her father must be dead, but she needs proof. As Ree is caught up in swirling violence, frankly, my Dears, I didn't give a damn if he was dead. The guilty always leave the innocent behind.
Daniel Woodrell knows the Missouri Ozarks. He was born there, grew up there, and lives near the Arkansas line still. Winter's Boneis his eighth novel. Five of his novels have been New York Times Notable Books of the Year. I've got some catching up to do. So, Mr. Woodrell, keep writing. I'm going to be gaining on you.
Away Down South: A History of Southern Identity, James C. Cobb's Muddled Look at The South
I was born and raised in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I know littleAway Down South: A History of Southern Identity, James C. Cobb's Muddled Look at The South
I was born and raised in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I know little of my father's genealogy as he decided he was too young to be a father and split when I was a week old. However, my mother's family was from Limestone County, Alabama. My only known relative to participate in the American Civil War was my great great grandfather, Samuel McConnell, a Presbyterian minister, who served as a chaplain. The only family known to me never owned another human being or wanted to. They were poor for the most part. From the time my great great grandfather lived, I was the first of that family line to attend college. My grand parents and my mother were very proud of me. I was taught from a young age to say "Sir" and "Ma'am" to all people no matter the color of their skin.
Never think that I believe the South bears no burden of a history indelibly chained to the ignominy of slavery. I do not own a Confederate flag, nor have I ever waved one.
At the risk of appearing an unrepentant unreconstructed Rebel, I must say I very much disliked this book. Authored by University of Georgia B. Phinizy Spalding Distinguished Professor in the History of the American South James C. Cobb, a native of rural Hart County, Georgia, I expected Dr. Cobb to be a cogent, story telling Southerner. What I got was dry, repetitive, incomplete, and a jumble of facts flying fast and furiously.
Cobb's jacket photo in "Away Down South" pictures him Bubbacized in a ball cap, driving a pickup truck. Will the real Dr. Cobb stand up?
Cobb also wrote as though what he could discern as basic information might be over the lay reader's head. I lost count of the times Cobb referred to Jim Crow, referencing the segregation laws put into place in numerous states, not just in the South. However, Cobb never identified Jim Crow or the origin of the term.
Just as "Dixie" was written by a white man from the North, an Ohioan, Jim Crow was created by Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice. Rice was known by his skits in New York City theaters. Rice was the first white man to appear on stage in black face makeup, portraying a stereotypical Black, called Jim Crow in 1828. His Jim Crow dance routine was a hit North of the Mason Dixon Line. His act led to the Minstrel shows that became so popular up North and spread to the South. But that information, I suppose, was not relevant for Dr. Cobb's text.
Jim Crow in New York, 1828
Cobb's section on Southern writers is a travesty, based on limited references. He dismissed Faulkner in two pages. Thomas Wolfe and Robert Penn Warren were given equally short shrift. In Cobb's literary South, there is no mention of Carson McCullers, Harper Lee, and very little recognition of Eudora Welty, just to name a few.
Especially annoying was Cobb's conjecture that had he been alive, William Faulkner would not have been standing at the side of James Meredith upon his admission to the University of Mississippi. Rather, Cobb mused that Faulkner aspired to be a Southern Cavalier as he had taken up fox hunting while living in Virginia, referring to Faulkner's portrait in a "pink" fox hunting uniform. Such conjecture seems outside the realm of legitimate scholarship. Cobb had me wanting to pitch his book across the room on several occasions. Faulkner's coat is red, by the way.
William Faulkner, pretty in pink
Cobb essentially divides the South into three eras: The Old South; The New South; and The No South. In short, there was the antebellum South; the South following the American Civil War; and the current South whose identity has become murky as a result of a homogenized population across America.
But what do I know? After all, I'm from Alabama, the state Cobb pointed out as being last in every nameable virtue following George Wallace's campaign for President of the United States. Cobb seemed a bit stunned at the degree of support Wallace found North of the Mason Dixon Line. Of course, racism has not been limited to the South. Or, am I wrong about that?
Cobb's "dry" sense of humor is revealed in his revelation of the rise of Southern Living Magazine. Although it originated from the publishers of "Progressive Farmer," a Northern publishing company has been educating Southerners on how to live Southern since 1985.
Bottom line, Cobb presents little that is positive about the South. The fate of the Ku Klux Klan? You won't find it here. That the KKK was bankrupted by an Alabama lawyer, Morris Dees, who founded the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, is not of relevance to, or a part of Cobb's supposed history of Southern identity.
The Civil Rights Memorial fronting the Southern Poverty Law Center
I do not like thee, Doctor Cobb, The reasons why - I have a glob; Your musings are just so macabre, These pages make my temples throb. While with fellow scholars,you may hobnob, I don't like thee, Doctor Cobb....more
Salvation on Sand Mountain: Dennis Covington's Adrenaline Rush
Mark 16:15-20 King James Version (KJV) 15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the worldSalvation on Sand Mountain: Dennis Covington's Adrenaline Rush
Mark 16:15-20 King James Version (KJV) 15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
20 And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
I had intended to read this book for some time, but had just not gotten to it. I picked it up after reading A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash. Cash's book dealt with a mean snake handling preacher. But being a work of fiction, the background on the practice of picking up serpents was lacking.
Mark 16:18 in action
There, now. That ought to have your attention. It certainly got Dennis Covington's. Covington will tell you that he has lived life on the edge and is an adrenaline junkie.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1948, Covington was raised in the almost middle class community of East Lake. Although drafted during the Vietnam War he was stationed state side in Louisiana. Following his hitch in the service, Covington obtained his BA in English from the University of Virginia in 1970. He obtained his MFA from the Iowa Writer's Workshop under the tutelage of Raymond Carver.
So far that sounds relatively tame. However, Covington wanted to go to a war. The only one available at the time was the Civil War in El Salvador. He and a photographer friend wrangled press credentials from the NY Times. Covington made a dozen trips to El Salvador in 1983, ending up in a number of situations that could have cut his bibliography rather short.
In 1991, Glenn Summerford, a serpent handling minister in Scottsboro, Alabama (yes, that Scottsboro, as in The Scottsboro Boys) was looking to change wives. However, his church doctrine dictated that divorce would prevent his continuing to preach. He decided to become a widower. After getting good and liquored up, Brother Glenn took his wife Darlene's sweet little hand and shoved it into a box of rattle snakes. She was bitten once. Glenn decided he needed to cover his tracks and forced Darlene to write a suicide note dictated by him as he held a gun to her head. When Darlene didn't die from the first bite, he forced her hand back into the box of snakes and she was bitten again. Glenn continued to drink, watching Darlene and waiting for her to die. Luckily, Glenn passed out. Darlene got to a phone, called her sister and told her to get an ambulance up the road with no lights or sirens. Darlene lived. Glenn Summerford was tried for attempted murder.
And that began Covington's journey, journalistic and personal. He was assigned to cover Summerford's trial. Summerford was convicted and sentenced to 99 years in the state penitentiary.
After covering the trial, Covington decided to continue his story, following members of the church without a preacher. Covington is accepted by members of the congregation and begins an odyssey from church to church from Alabama to Kentucky. In search of spiritual ecstasy, Covington crosses the line from journalist to convert.
Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia is a harrowing read. Covington provides a history of the Holiness Church movement begun by George Went Hensley. Sources indicate Hensley began the practice of serpent handling between 1910 and 1913. The movement spread through coal mining towns throughout Appalachia and remains actively practiced today, although it is subject to prosecution in each state with the exception of West Virginia.
Update 5/30/2013: Suggested as a possible group read for Pulp Fictionhttp://www.goodreads.com/group/show/5... under discussion of genre "Country Noir." I call it "Grit Lit," as a number of authors and other readers have dubbed it. ...more
Something has spoken to me in the night...and told me I shall die. I know not where. Saying:
"[Death is] to lose the earth yo know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth."
Cash skilfully spins his tale through three distinct points of view: Adelaide Lyle, an elderly lady who provides the history and background of the story, serving as moral conscience of the story; nine year old Jess Hall, the portrait of innocence lost; and Clem Barefield, sheriff of Madison County, North Carolina for twenty-five years. First taking office in 1961, Barefield sets the events in the story in 1986.
Madison County is as far west in North Carolina as you can get, butting against the border of Tennessee. Marshall is the County seat. A patchwork of deep wooded valleys and steep mountains, tobacco farmers in the western region of the state produce burley tobacco on farms hewed out of land more reminiscent of a network of roller coasters than agriculture.
Marshall, NC, County Seat of Madison County
Folks in the Appalachians are God fearing. Passing through, if the Spirit moves you, you won't have a problem finding a church. But I'd recommend steering clear of churches in old grocery stores and gas stations, especially if the name of the church ends in the words "in Signs Following." Folks put their faith on exhibition by handling serpents, drinking strychnine, and handling fire to see if it'll burn'em.
Inside a Church of Christ With Signs Following
Now, you take the church in this book. It didn't start out that way. Once upon a time it was the French Broad Church of Christ in a real cburch with pews and a steeple, headed up by Pastor Matthews. But the cancer got him back in 75. Then along comes this fellow from out of nowhere, name of Carson Chambliss.
It didn't take long for about half the congregation to up and leave when Chambliss took over pastoring. Without half the congregation, the bank took the church and sold it to the Presbyterians. That was fine with Chambliss who moved the church down to the old grocery store and papered the windows so nobody passing by could see what was going on inside that building.
Chambliss put up a sign by the road at the edge of the parking lot and changed the name to River Road Church of Christ in Signs Following. Now, you remember what I told you about those churches ending their name in Signs Following. Underneath the name of the church he painted Mark 16: 17-18. That's those verses that say you got faith you can pick up serpents, drink poison, and the Holy Ghost will keep you safe.
"I'd seen people I'd known just about my whole life pick up snakes and drink poison, hold fire up to their faces just to see if it would burn them. Holy people, too...that hadn't ever acted like that a day in their lives. But Chambliss convinced them it was safe to challenge the will of God."
I'm nine and my brother is eleven. His name is Christopher but everybody calls him Stump. He's never said a word. He's bigger than me but I'm the leader. We live with Mama and Daddy. Daddy grows tobacco. When he hangs it in the barn and it dries out it smells so good.
Stump and I get in trouble with Mama when we snoop. There's things we shouldn't know about. One day Stump and me were outside and heard the noises Mama and Daddy make sometimes when we're told to go outside and play. Stump climbed up on the rain barrel but it wasn't Daddy in there making those noises. I saw Mama's preacher leave the house and he looked at me and Stump. I didn't tell Daddy about the noises.
On Sunday Mama went down to the church like she always does. Daddy doesn't go. Instead of leaving us at Sunday School with Miss Adelaide, Mama took Stump with her. I wanted to go, but she wouldn't let me. Only Stump. She took him to night church, too. I don't know what happened. But Stump died. Daddy got so mad at the men from church that brought Stump home he hit them and hit them.
Twenty five years next month. That's how long I've been Sheriff here in Madison County. My grandfather was Sheriff over in Henderson County. And my father farmed apples there. Hendersonville, Flat Rock, they're little more than an hour away, but living here is as close to living in a different world as you can get, no matter how old you get.
People here are different. They're superstitious. Know the old mountain ways. Religion is so thick in the hills and hollers up here you can stir it with a stick. But I haven't had a reason to set foot inside a church in more years than I can count, especially after my son Jeff died. It's not natural for a man to outlive his son. Jeff and Ben Hall were friends, good friends. Ben settled down, married, became a good farmer, a good provider.
There's calls you get that don't amount to nothin'. Then there's those you get you can't forget. My wife Sheila handed me the phone and it was Robby, my Deputy, telling me Ben Hall's boy Stump was laying dead up at Adelaide Lyle's house. Killed in that damned church over on River Road.
Sheila told me not to let things get out of hand. There's some times though you can't keep from gettin' out of hand. Specially when that damned crazy preacher Chambliss is at the bottom of things. How the Hell does a boy get killed in a church? Why in the Hell do you kill a child who is incapable of speaking a word?
Wiley Cash can write. He can tell a story. Cash began A Land Before Time while a graduate student in Louisiana. His mentor, as he worked on his dissertation, was Ernest Gaines. What an opportunity!
Ernest Gaines--I love me some Ernest Gaines' Books
Everyone seems to love this book. Cash is one of the new darlings of the publishing world. His interview with Vanity Fair is entitled "Author Wiley Cash on Being the “Justin Timberlake of American Literature." http://www.vanityfair.com/online/dail...
The dust jacket gleams with blurbs to the point you'd think this book came wrapped in stars. Clyde Edgerton said it would knock your socks off. Gail Godwin said it was like stepping into a Greek tragedy. Ernest Gaines' blurb is a little bit more interesting. Although it begins with a glow it dims to a weak glimmer. "I think this could be the beginning of a long fruitful career."
In an interview with Brad Wetherell in Fiction Writers Review Cash said he got the basic idea of his plot from a newspaper clipping about a young autistic boy being smothered during a healing ceremony in a store front church in Chicago. Cash wanted to move it South to North Carolina. http://fictionwritersreview.com/inter...
I wish I could love this book as many reviewers and readers seem to. However, as well as Cash can cause the reader to keep turning the pages, he leaves some mighty big gaps in his story.
How was Chambliss chosen as the new minister at the ill-fated church? How did Chambliss manage to convert a Church of Christ into an unquestioning foot stompin', snake handlin' strychnine drinkin' fire handlin' bunch with such ease?
Sure, this is a work of fiction. But even writers of fiction might do a little research about an area in which so much documentation exists, such as the Holiness Church movement. Bottom line, there are few converts to serpent handling. These churches, found up through Appalachia, consist of small congregations which include descendants of the original founding members. They don't grow into practicing churches overnight. Cash should read Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia by Dennis Covington.
Cash is being touted as the next Tom Franklin. Sorry. Franklin never left so many gaps in a story. I think Ernest Gaines is right. This book could be the beginning of a fruitful career. Or it could turn into a series of incredulous stories. The choice is Cash's.
I wouldn't discourage anyone from reading this book. I rate it a 4 for the prose, a 3 for the plot with an over-all 3.5. Hallelujah!
A yellow bird with a yellow bill was sitting on my window sill I lured him in with a piece of bread and then I smashed his f**king head.
Yellow birds in step
I can add little to what my friend Jeff Keeten has said about this powerful and terrible beauty of a book. While I read it first, and recommended it to him, you won't find a better review of it than his. http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...
Kevin Powers wrote from experience. After graduating from high school he joined the Army and was shipped to Iraq at the age of seventeen. He was a machine gunner in Mosul and Al Tafar. You know, two little towns that remained hot spots after President George W. appeared on an aircraft carrier replete with banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished."
Powers follows Private John Bartles, twenty-one, Private Daniel Murphy, eighteen, and their battle hardened Sergeant Sterling through Sterling's tough basic training and a brutal campaign in Al Tafar. Boots on the ground are worn by the young. Sterling is twenty-three.
Bartles meets Daniel's mother upon their graduation from basic training. She asks him the impossible--to keep Daniel safe and bring him back alive. Bartles makes a promise he cannot keep. Sterling immediately knocks him to the ground warning him never to make such a promise when war is involved.
In Al Tafar it is difficult to know who your enemies are. Bartles thinks about the kids to whom they throw candy today they may be fighting in a few years.
God, are any of 'em wired?
After George W. Bush declared "Mission accomplished" in 2003, we lost four thousand men and women. It was not a piece of cake. It was not a walk in the park. The people of Iraq did not meet us as liberators. There were no weapons of mass destruction. And the Big Green Machine is gone. To what end?
Kevin Powers has been likened to Erich Maria Remarque. This is a book that should be read by every American. For one has to wonder how many more war memorials does a nation need. How many more graves must be dug at Arlington?
"My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori."--Wilfred Owen
The Moviegoer: Walker Percy's Novel of "If That's All There Is"
Is that all there is, is that all there is If that's all there is my friends, then let'sThe Moviegoer: Walker Percy's Novel of "If That's All There Is"
Is that all there is, is that all there is If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing Let's break out the booze and have a ball If that's all there is--Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller
If Walker Percy's The Moviegoer ever hits the screen, I'm sure Peggy Lee singing "Is That All There Is" will be on the soundtrack. And, if Binx Bolling is there to see it, I wonder if he'll recognize himself.
Not in the mood for a little Camus? No Jean Paul Sartre? Well, "The Moviegoer" probably won't be your cup of tea either. It's existentialism Southern style, starring Binx Bolling a member of the well bred Bolling clan from Felicianas Parish, you know, Audobon's Happy Land, where America's best known ornithologist killed his specimens in order to paint them, and for some reason was dismissed more than once by well bred families whose daughters he was tutoring, or something or other.
It's not that Binx hasn't had significant events occur in his life that made him wonder what's it all about. After all, his father, committed suicide. Then there was that nasty little police action in Korea, during which he and his squad got caught in a tangle of barbed wire while being surrounded by Red Chinese troops blowing those bugles. It's all a bit disturbing.
After his excursion to the Orient, Binx heads home to New Orleans, where the family has now settled. Strong willed Aunt Emily who has served as his guardian sends Binx off to college, sure that he has a purpose filled life ahead of him. However, Binx, the classic fraternity man, drifts through college without obtaining a single honor.
Binx settles into professional life as a small time stockbroker in New Orleans. Although he is welcome to live in the family home in The Garden District, he kicks over the old family traces and rents an apartment in the Gentilly district, filled with Arts and Crafts bungalows and raised cottages.
Our anti-hero is much happier sitting in a darkened theater, content to while away his time watching the flickering images on the screen. He studies the movements and gestures of Gregory Peck and has Akim Tamaroff down to a tee. Catching William Holden strolling through the French Quarter is a highlight of one particular day in his life.
Binx tells us,
“The fact is I am quite happy in a movie, even a bad movie. Other people, so I have read, treasure memorable moments in their lives: the time one climbed the Parthenon at sunrise, the summer night one met a lonely girl in Central Park and achieved with her a sweet and natural relationship, as they say in books. I too once met a girl in Central Park, but it is not much to remember. What I remember is the time John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was falling to the dusty street in Stagecoach, and the time the kitten found Orson Welles in the doorway in The Third Man.”
In addition to movies, Binx finds brief moments of solace in sex. Being a stockbroker requires a secretary. He has a string of them all named either Linda or Marcia. Acting Gregory Peckerish, Binx is quite adept at bedding his secretaries who have the essential interchangeable body parts along with their interchangeable names. However, brief moments of happiness only turn into a general malaise.
Binx is on some indefinable Search for some indefinable purpose. After all, if one is not on to something, one is in despair. Kierkegaard had a few things to say about that.
The action in "The Moviegoer" takes place during one week of Mardi Gras, when the entire city takes on an identity of its own, giving the novel a background of the absurd.
During that week, Aunt Emily will attempt to persuade Binx, about to turn thirty, to consider going to medical school. She will pay all expenses. He will have the studio behind the house with total privacy to pursue what she offers as a purpose filled life.
Is this the end of Binx's Search? There is the complication of cousin Kate, Binx's female counterpart to whom he proposes marriage. She, too, is on her own Search, having lost her college love in a car wreck years ago, lost in despair and depression with a predilection for a hand full of Nembutal. While half-heartedly wooing Kate, Binx is pursuing his latest secretary, Sharon. All in all, Binx is a bit of a cad, seeking the momentary pleasure as opposed to a lasting pleasure filled life.
"The Moviegoer" is a bitter pill to swallow. However, it is a masterpiece of loneliness that each of us has experienced at some point in our lives. Brilliantly written, this is a novel that deserved the National Book Award given in 1962. Percy has earned his slots on The Modern Library List of 100 Novels and Time Magazine's Greatest 100.
Now, that's done. Ah, yes. Peggy Lee. I think I'll break out the booze and have a ball. It's rather early. Perhaps I should make that a Bloody Mary. One for me. One for you.
Save this one for a rainy day Monday. Don't they always get you down?
Gathering of Waters: Bernice L. McFadden's Embrace of the Seen and Unseen
"I am Money. Money, Mississippi...
Listen, if you choose to bGathering of Waters: Bernice L. McFadden's Embrace of the Seen and Unseen
"I am Money. Money, Mississippi...
Listen, if you choose to believe nothing else that transpires here, believe this: your body does not have a soul; your soul has a body, and souls never, ever die."
It is unusual that I continue to be so haunted by a novel that I take days before I attempt to review it. But, I dare say, many a reader may find themselves under the same spell so artfully cast by Bernice L. McFadden.
Gathering of Waters takes its title from the Native American name for Mississippi, "many gathering of waters." McFadden reminds us that the Native Americans driven from their home and the Africans brought to the State by white men as slaves both believed in animism, the idea that souls inhabit all objects. Money, itself possesses a soul that follows three generations of its citizens from the 1920s into the Twenty-first Century.
Good and evil are palpable forces that inhabit the souls of those people. McFadden swirls through a history of violent and turbulent events beginning with the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921. It is there we meet August Hilson, a minister, his family and a young girl, Doll, possessed by the spirit of Esther, a whore, whose throat was cut while plying her trade.
Doll's mother abandons her when she fails to exorcise Esther's spirit from her daughter's body. She gives her to August Hilson to raise. As Doll enters adolescence, Esther surfaces to seduce August. His wife divorces him. He marries Dolly who bears him two children, Paris and Hemmingway.
The Hilsons become homeless as a result of the Tulsa riots. During two days of violence, the Greenville District, known as the Black Wall Street of America, was burned to the ground. Over three hundred Blacks were murdered.
June 6-7, 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma
August is summoned to Money, Mississippi, to pastor a church on Nigger Row. It is their salvation. However, August is horrified to discover a bite mark on Doll's upper thigh when her nightgown creeps up while she sleeps. Doll, possessed by Esther, has taken not only a black lover, but a white lover, as well, Cole Payne, a grocer who welcomes both black and white customers.
In 1927 Mississippi was struck by the great flood. On the bank of the Tallahatchie River, Money was caught in its path. August is swept away as he delivers his Good Friday sermon. Doll is not at church. She is in the arms of Cole Payne. As the gathering of waters rushes over Money, Doll is pulled under the water and Esther needs a new home.
After the flood
In the aftermath of the flood, two young men are rescuing survivors and pulling the dead from the river. They pull the body of a young boy, J.W. Milam from the water. At the funeral home, as the mortician prepares to embalm the boy, J.W. is resurrected. Esther lives on.
Hemmingway has a daughter, Tass. When Tass asks who her father is, Hemmingway tells her she is her mother and father. I leave it to the reader to discover Tass's paternity.
Money watches the Hilsons and the Bryants through the years. It is the summer of 1955. A young man from Chicago, Emmett Till, has come to Money to visit his grandparents. It's love at first sight for Tass and Emmett. But we know how that story ends.
Emmett Till at age 14
Emmett Till let out that infamous wolf whistle. McFadden tells us that Carolyn Bryant heard the whistle and asked Emmett to repeat it. J.W., the half brother of her husband, Roy Bryant, witnesses the whistle. He's a mean drunk, and confronts Carolyn and Roy. "Nothing? A nigger whistling at you is nothing?" Emmett's fate is sealed.
Where Emmett Whistled
Money simply recounts the kidnapping and killing of Emmett on August 24, 1955, the not guilty verdict at the trial of Milam and Bryant, and the audacity of Milam to brag of having committed the murder in an interview with Look Magazine. We learn the bitter taste of double jeopardy and rage over the injustice. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/till/sfe...
Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam
Tass marries, but always remembers Emmett. She moves to Detroit with her husband who works in the automobile industry. Following her husband's death, she returns to Money, to one final gathering of waters. It is 2005. Hurricane Katrina is churning in the Gulf of Mexico.
McFadden draws her cautionary tale to a stunning conclusion that still brings a lump to my throat. That may well be your reaction, too.
"...McFadden works a kind of miracle — not only do they retain their appealing humanity; their story eclipses the bonds of history to offer continuous surprises...
This is where the real power of the narrative lies: not in the Mississippi River flooding 23,000 square miles, killing some 250 people in April 1927, and not in the awful, brutal death of a boy who later became a symbol of the civil rights movement, but in the richness and complexity of the characters, of the women of the Hilson family and the men, Emmett among them, who love them."
Whether you have embraced this tale as truth or fantasy; I hope you will take something away from having read it. I pray that you will become more sensitive to world around you, the seen and unseen. As you go about your lives, keep in mind that an evil act can ruin generations, and gestures of love and kindness will survive and thrive forever.
Choose wisely, dearest."
That's good advice to remember long, long, after reading McFadden's haunting work. "Gathering of Waters" has earned every bit of praise it has garnered. Read it and pass it on.
The Hamlet: Faulkner's Novel of the Snopes Trilogy
Reviewed by V.K. Ratliff
Things were right quiet down at Frenchman's Bend. No, not up at the old SutpThe Hamlet: Faulkner's Novel of the Snopes Trilogy
Reviewed by V.K. Ratliff
Things were right quiet down at Frenchman's Bend. No, not up at the old Sutpen place. This down south an' east of town.
Ever man knew how things worked. It wasn't the best place to live. Old Will Varner owned about ever thing worth anythin'. Most of the men farmed their cotton on shares on land owned by Varner. But a man could make a livin' on shares and have a roof over his head which he most likely paid Varner for. An when they made their crop Varner ginned it. An they got their shares. Their credit was good at Varner's store, too. An' that come out of their shares, too.
Now, I remember the day Ab Snopes come to the Bend. I had knowed him since I was eight years old. He had been around Yoknapatawpha all the way back to the War Between the States, him and Granny Millard dealing in mules, mostly the same mules over an over. The whole mess soured that man.
Ab come into town an' that darn fool Jody, Old Will's son went an' rented to Ab. Rentin' to a barn burner isn't good business. Never has been. You can ask Colonel de Spain in town. Course, nobody ever proved Ab done that. Jody's eyes got big as saucers when I told him what he'd gone an' done.
But Ab weren't the worst of it. It was that son of his, Flem. An Flem got hired on as clerk down at the store. Kinda a type of fire insurance if you get my meanin'.
Then those Snopeses come crawlin' into the hamlet like cockroaches out of the woodwork. Except it was more like those locusts Moses called down on Egypt.
That Flem. He had a head for money. Better than Jody an' as good as Will Varner. But he was like that catarrh that fills up your chest when you have the ague. You hawk an cough an it's stuck there until you can finally hawk it up. Then even when you spit it out you still taste it. That was Flem.
Nobody could beat Flem. An' he even done away with credit at the store.
Will Varner had a daughter named Eula. Pretty thing. Don't think she knew the effect she had on men, not for a while until all the boys come around. An then it was the older ones showed up. She had more movin' parts on her than a woman should be allowed. And when she comes up in the family way, it's Flem that marries her. An it's off to Texas.
There's a lot more you'll find out about those Snopeses. An I'm ashamed to say me an Henry Armstid an Bookwright without knowin' it made it possible for Flem an that crowd of cousins of his to head to Jefferson. Good ole V.K. that everbody likes, noddin', smilin', sellin' sewin' machines on notes, tellin' tall tales. An everbody would just laugh an laugh. But there's nuthin' to laugh about no more.
All that greed, all that's dishonest an untruthful's headin' into Town. Gawdamighty what have I gone an done? That Flem, thinkin' a little tie an a white shirt an money can make a man respectable. I'm goin to have to watch him an all them. It's what I turned loose. Sholy.
A Lonely Death: Charles Todd's Mixture of War and Revenge
It's time to confess that I have my own guilty pleasures on my library shelves. Mine happen tA Lonely Death: Charles Todd's Mixture of War and Revenge
It's time to confess that I have my own guilty pleasures on my library shelves. Mine happen to be the Inspector Ian Rutledge novels by Charles Todd.
If you've not met Inspector Rutledge, this is definitely not your starting place. A Lonely Death is his twelfth case. The series dates back to A Test Of Wills.
So, I suppose that a bit of background is in order. Rutledge is an Inspector for Scotland Yard. He is not the favorite of Chief Superintendent Paul Bowles. Perhaps it is because Rutledge is not your particular police officer. Rutledge was university educated, the son of a solicitor and a concert pianist.
Of course, Rutledge could have easily followed his father into the law. However he chose not to do so after a conversation with his father.
Then a remark my father made when I was ten, I think, changed that. He said the law was created so that everyone could expect a fair and impartial justice. There was a murder trial later that summer, and I asked who spoke for the dead man. He told me that no one did, the man was dead. The police gathered evidence, made an arrest, the killer was brought to trial, and if found guilty, punished. That struck me as odd—why shouldn’t the dead man have a voice in what caused his death? My father replied that the law wasn’t set up that way. By the time I’d come down from university, I realized that I wanted to be that voice. It’s how I approach my cases.
What intrigued me by this series of novels is that Rutledge served four years in the trenches on the Somme, not a pleasant place. His right hand non-com was a Scot named Hamish McLeod. One evening orders came down for another launch over the top to take out a machine gun nest. Hamish was to lead the group. He had come to see the futility of the war, was sick of the deaths of the men he led and refused to carry out the mission. Rutledge, within military law, had his comrade in arms executed. Almost simultaneously a barrage sent a shell hurtling into the trenches burying Rutledge alive. After he was dug out, it had been a pocket of air supplied by the dead Hamish that kept him alive.
Rutledge emerged from his experiene not only shell-shocked as they call it in those days, he was constantly accompanied by the voice of Hamish McLeod in his head. After almost a year's recuperation under the care of a psychiatrist, Rutledge returns to duty at Scotland Yard. That his shell-shock diagnosis might come out constantly haunts him. That he must constantly be aware of not carrying on a two way conversation with Hamish drives him to distraction.
But enough of background. In this go around, it it July, 1920. Someone is killing former members of a a squadron of Eastfield Village boys who returned home relatively unscathed by the war. One by one, someone is picking them off with the effective use of a garotte, a particularly nasty way to die.
The garotte in these particular murders appear made of wire, leaving the victim in a particularly messy pool of blood. To make it even more interesting, an identification disk, the forerunner of the more recent dog tag is found in the mouth of each murder victim. However each disk comes from a man of a different regiment. What could possibly be the connection?
Even with Rutledge on the case, the murders continue. A particularly hostile witness files a complaint against Rutledge to have him removed from the case, giving Superintendent Bowles the opportunity to yank Rutledge and replace him with his pet favorite Inspector Mickelson.
Things get complicated when Mickelson himself is attacked, but not with a garotte. And the suspect? Why, Rutledge, of course. Bowles has found the ideal way to permanently remove Rutledge from the yard by having him charged with the attempted murder of Mickelson.
But as I've said, Rutledge is not the ordinary policeman. He has friends in high places who have him restored to the case.
This is no straight forward mystery, nor is any mystery intended to be if well written and this is an extremely well written novel. Nor is there one violation of the rules of the Detection Club founded by the great English writers of the 1930s. Each clue is there. There is no surprise assailant. This is a most pleasant diversion for a couple of hot summer afternoons served up with your favorite libation.
And about Charles Todd. Well, it's a pen name. Charles Todd is actually a mother and son writing team, Mother in Delaware, and Son in North Carolina. It's impossible, at least to me to determine who wrote what. Each of this series has received consistently high reviews, particularly from the NY Times. I highly recommend Charles Todd's Inspector Rutledge series.
Three Bags Full: Leonie Swann's novel of Sheepish Detection
My thanks to the group Literary Exploration. Without the group's selection of Three Bags FThree Bags Full: Leonie Swann's novel of Sheepish Detection
My thanks to the group Literary Exploration. Without the group's selection of Three Bags Fullas our group read for March, 2012, I doubt I would have ever picked up this little gem, even though I had spotted it on the shelves of our local Barnes & Noble.
A detective novel where sheep are the detectives? The thought of it makes one feel a bit, well, sheepish.
However, Leonie Swann pulls off this woolly caper with style and flair. When George, the shepherd, is found murdered, the local villagers of Killain don't seem to take much notice. But his flock, who has a better understanding of human nature than a lot of humans are determined to see justice done.
It's no small feat, for sheep have a problem with forgetfulness. However, each member of the flock has strengths and weaknesses. Where one member is lacking, another member of the flock has what is needed. In the case of memory, Mopple, the Whale, a constant grazer whose girth gives him his name, is THE Memory Sheep.
George was a good shepherd who provided clean water, proper fodder, and protection for each of his flock. He even read aloud to them, including a detective novel. Miss Maple, Ms. Swann's sly allusion to Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, is the brains of the flock who knows the significance of clues and sets out to find who murdered their precious George who had promised to take all of them to Europe. He was a good sheperd, indeed.
Personally, I've never given sheep much consideration. Oh, I've watched a flock of sheep graze in a clover covered meadow while taking a travel break. It was a peaceful, pastoral scene. And I confess that I've a taste for lamb, properly prepared. Saints preserve us, one of the flock might say. But, otherwise, I just don't think much about sheep. Probably not many of us do. Perhaps that is why Leonie Swann's sheep's tale has been translated into thirty-two languages to date. It's a rare little anthropomorphic read with a wry look at human nature.
Thanks to Ms. Swann, I've learned much about sheep behavior that makes me a little ashamed to be merely human. Each member of the flock looks out after the other. We humans may rise to the occasion from time to time, but we fail miserably on a daily basis.
Sheep are cognizant of God and contemplate on the nature of souls. They correctly observe that some of God's representatives do not concern themselves with a lost sheep, such as poor George and don't seem to mind too terribly that some human pinned George to the ground with a spade through his middle.
Sheep do not gossip. The villagers of Killain are gossipers non pareil, speculating on why George was content to live alone in his small caravan, with an estranged wife, a possible mistress, and are constantly curious about whatever remained locked in George's caravan. The human inhabitants pruriently speculate on what splendors in the grass George engaged in, not only with a purported mistress, but even his favorite black ram, Othello.
The village Constable is named Holmes. However, much to his consternation he is no Sherlock. His clearance rate of crime in the County is nil. He's much more concerned with taking his Guinness at the local pub.
Then there's the nature of grass. It has two distinct meanings, one for sheep and one for humans. Humans are more interested in Cannabis Sativa L. Sheep are more concerned with grass of a different nature, sweet fodder for fuel. For them, that's enough.
Swann's novel is continually entertaining, comedic in nature, but also delving into the more tragic nature of George's life. It is a delightful diversion that reminds us that murder will out in the end, as happens in all detective novels. In this novel, the solution is a denoument that just maybe will make us a bit more mindful of the lost sheep in our own flock.
With Swann's great success in her debut novel, I'm so pleased to know that a sequel already exists in its original German edition, book:Garou: Ein Schaf-Thriller|7027202]. Either I'll have to wait for the English translation or break out meine Deutsche-English dictionary. I do know I won't have to wait for a recommendation to read it.
Solid 4 Star Read for originality, something completely different...more
Davis Grubb, born July 1919, Moundsville, WV, died July 24, 1980, NY, NY. Grubb was the author of eleven novels.
The Night of the Hunter, First Ed., First Prtg., Harper Brothers, NY, NY, 1953. The novel was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1955.
“Not that you mind the killings! There's plenty of killings in your book, Lord..”--Preacher Harry Powell
Let't get right down to it. Davis Grubb wrote a Southern-Gothic classic when he created The Night of the Hunter. It was his first published novel, appearing in 1953. Charles Laughton filmed Grubb's novel, which premiered in 1955. It was the only film that Laughton ever chose to direct. Laughton's masterpiece was added to the National Film Registry in 1992. It should be there. It has been chosen by the Criterion Collection as a selection among films deemed worthy of restoration.
Charles Laughton directs Robert Mitchum as the murderous Harry Powell
It is the Great Depression, sometime in the 1930s, along the Ohio River border of West Virginia. Times are bad. Families are disrupted. It is not unusual for children to roam the roads looking for food and shelter wherever they can find it. And men, who would not otherwise have done so, do desperate things.
Traditional ballads tell of the times.
TIMES ARE GETTING HARD, BOYS (Unknown, expanded by Lee Hays)
Times are getting hard, boys Money's getting scarce If things don't get no better, boys Gonna leave this place
Take my true love by the hand Lead her thru the town Saying good-bye to everyone Good-bye to everyone
Take my bible from the bed Shotgun from the wall Take old Sal and hitch her up The wagon for to haul
Pile the chairs and beds up high Let nothing drag the ground Sal can pull and we can push We're bound to leave this town
Made a crop a year ago It withered to the ground Tried to get some credit But the banker turned me down
But I'm goin' to Californ-i-ay Where everything is green Goin' to have the best ole farm That you have ever seen
"Times are gettin' hard boys" was collected by Carl Sandburg. It's earliest known printing is in Sandburg's The American Songbag published in 1927. Lee Hays a member of the legendary Weavers, blackballed as a result of the McCarthy hearings, ultimately faded from view. However, Hall provided the lyrics.
Ben Harper, husband to Willa, and father to ten year old John and four year old Pearl, walks out of the hardware store in which he works, determinedly enters the bank across the street, successfully robbing the bank of $10,000.00. But he kills the teller and the bank president in the process. Ben makes it home in time to stash the money in a clever hiding place, swearing his two young children to tell no one, not even their mother where the money is. It's a heavy burden to put on a ten year old boy. Pearl hasn't a clue to the significance of the oath she has sworn. Then, young John Harper watches his father carried away by the law.
Telling where the money is hidden might save Ben Harper's life, but he's not buying it. He's guilty. And he is sentenced to hang by the neck till dead.
Ben's lawyer tells him there's hope for clemency if he coughs up the money. The answer is no. Willa, with a glint of greed in her eye, begs Ben to tell her where the money is, on her last visit with him on the eve of his execution. Ben tells her the money will drive her headlong to Hell.
Ben's cellmate is Preacher, serving s stint in the pen for auto theft. He begs, wheedles, and cajoles Ben to reveal the hiding place. Ben still refuses and takes his secret to his death on the gallows. The hangman said he kicked for a while before he went still. He shudders at knowing he executed a man with a wife and two children.
Preacher is Harry Powell, a sociopath of the highest order. "Is it twelve, or is it six," he questions himself. For Harry is not just a simple car thief. He's the murderer of any number of widows into whose affections he has talked his way in. A man of the cloth. A man of God. Who could be a more perfect suitor. Well, it's not Harry Powell, whose character is based on the true case of Harry Powers, dubbed "The Lonely Hearts Club Killer," who swung from the gallows in Moundsville, West Virginia, in 1932.
Harry Powers. Innocent looking, isn't he? Among his victims, a widow and her three children. Their bodies and that of another widow were found in his home.
What kind of childhood did Harry Powell have to cause him to hate women with the vile abhorrence he held for them. Why was every woman the Whore of Babylon? Harry works his way into the homes of widows and murders them for the small amounts of cash stashed in the sugar bowl on the dining room table. He will preach a revival here and there and pass the hat for enough money to keep him alive until God tells him it's time to kill another woman.
Grubbs writes at breakneck pace. Preacher Harry is out of the penitentiary a month after Ben Harper Swings. He's in Ben's home town in a matter of days. Willa, given a mercy job at Icy and Walter Spoon's Ice Cream Parlor, is no match for Harry's smooth talking ways. And he's so good with the children. "My little lambs," he calls them. Pearl, who has no real memory of her father has no problem calling Preacher "Daddy." John sees through Harry for what he is. Harry's out for the money and he'll get it at any cost. It's not much of a spoiler to say Willa doesn't have a long and happy second marriage, not after she overhears Harry asking Pearl where is the money.
No one knows where Willa went
With Willa out of the picture, Harry has the children at his mercy. It is easy to divide and conquer when dealing with a ten year old and a four year old. It is easy to lock John into his room while he wheedles the secret of the money's hiding place from Pearl.
That Grubb has a ten year old outwit the wily psychopath might be a real stretch of the imagination. Grubb pulls it off without a hitch. Pride does go before a fall. The Preacher underestimates the determination instilled in young John Harper by the promise he made to his father to guard Pearl with his life. Thanks to John, the children escape. It's a ride down the Ohio River in his father's old skiff in which he and his father had run trot lines in better days.
It's on that run down the river that the children encounter Rachel Cooper, the most finely rendered character in the novel. Rachel has long been widowed and on her own. Even during the Depression she is self sufficient, selling eggs and butter. And if there are such things as Angels, Rachel is one of them. She's taken in three children, tossed into her lap by the harsh economic times. If there's room for three chicks, there's room for five. John and Pearl have a new home.
Lillian Gish as Rachel Cooper. She protects her chicks.
But it is inevitable that Harry will track the two children down. John sees him at a distance and hears him singing. "Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms. Leaning, leaning. Leaning on the everlasting arms." Just as John saw through the Preacher's false broadcloth coat, so will Rachel. It's only a question of whether good or evil will win.
This is a remarkable work of literature. The prose is flawless. Grubb drops you into the minds of each of the characters, even that of Harry Powell. It is a place in which you don't want to linger, but linger there you will. And Grubb compels you to stay there until he's ready to release you from his artful grasp.
Grubb grew up in Moundsville, West Virginia. He saw the effects of the Depression on his own parents. His ancestors had lived there for over two hundred years. He drew on his childhood experiences to create the world he wrote of in The Night of the Hunter. He remembered well. He wrote well. And in no other work did he write as well of social corruption through the misuse of religion and the disruption of the family as he did with this short jewel of a novel. Read it. Read it more than once. Watch how he put it together. It's just that damned good.
Charles Laughton may have gotten the glory. But there would have been no glory without Davis Grubb. Nor would Laughton have been praised so much without such a strong screenplay, written by no less than James Agee. Nor would Robert Mitchum ever have had his unforgettable role, with the words love and hate tattooed across the backs of his fingers.
James Agee, dead at the age of forty-three, May 16, 1955
"These letters spell out the Lesson of Life,boy! boomed Preacher with a cozening and unctuous geniality. Shall I tell you the little story of the Right-Hand-Left-Hand-the tale of Good and Evil?
...Hate! roared Preacher, thrusting up the fingers of his left hand so that all might read. It was with this left hand that old brother Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low! And since that ungodly day, brethren, the left hand has borne the curse of the living and Almighty Jehovah!
...Love! cried Preacher, thrusting up the right hand now. See these here fingers, dear friends! These fingers has veins that lead right square to the heart--to the almighty soul of Man! The right hand, friends! The Hand of Love! Now watch and I'll show you the story of Life! The fingers of these hands, dear hearts!--they're always a tuggin' and a warrin' one hand against the other!"
Ah, yes, dear hearts, that's some mighty fine writin'!
Listen to Grubb talk about writing and reading from his works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-m-iq... , Note: This is the first part of six. One part leads you to the next. Rare to find this much of an author's lectures preserved so readily available.
Charles Laughton and James Agee feuded over the sceenplay of "The Night of the Hunter." Laughton claimed sole credit for the screenplay. It was not until years later that Agee's reputation was vindicated. Read Downriver and Heavenward With James Agee by Michael Sragow Agee: Film Writing and Selected Journalism and Agee: “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” “A Death in the Family,” Shorter Fiction for the Library of America. He is the author of Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master. ...more
Thirteen Reasons Why,Jay Asher's Song of Suicide for Duet
I have been one acquainted with the night. I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain. I hav
Thirteen Reasons Why,Jay Asher's Song of Suicide for Duet
I have been one acquainted with the night. I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain. I have outwalked the furthest city light.--Robert Frost
The facts are grim, but true. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people aged fifteen to twenty-four. It is the fourth leading cause of death for children aged ten to fourteen. The statistics are compiled by the United States Center for Disease Control. Although contributing factors may vary from case to case, the most common factor is depression, the belief that life is overwhelming and that death is a welcome escape.
But statistics are nothing but numbers. Jay Asher with his novel Th1rteen R3asons Why, has brought a mere number to life in Hannah Baker's story. Hannah commits suicide by taking pills. She has reasons--thirteen of them. And she has left no doubt as to what those reasons are by recording her reasons and naming the people who are responsible for her decision.
It is ghoulish in a way. Hannah has mailed her cassette tapes to one person with explicit instructions that after listening to the tapes that person mail them to the next person on the list. If her audial chain letter is broken, she's made a backup copy which will be made public. It's unlikely anyone will break the chain because Hannah tells secrets no one would want revealed.
Hannah's story begins simply enough. She's the new girl at the local high school. She's pretty. Her parents have opened up a new shoe store in town. But Hannah's problems begin quite soon. She's put down as number one on the "Hot" list being circulated around school. Never mind it's not true. Now, Hannah's the girl with the reputation. She is the constant target of snubs and snickers.
But then there's Clay. He's the boy who is known school wide as the good kid. Why would he be on Hannah's list of thirteen reasons? Perhaps it's because he folded to peer pressure and didn't ask her out because of what "they" would say. However, Clay's conduct comes nowhere close to approaching that of his classmates, including stalking, voyeurism, sexual harassment, and out and out rape.
It is through Clay that Asher makes his story so compelling. Asher has written two distinct narratives, one for Hannah and one for Clay. He has intermingled Hannah's voice on the tape with Clay's immediate reaction to what he has just heard. It is effective. It works. And it is this technique that makes Thirteen Reasons Why read like a bullet.
Asher has done a good deed writing this book. It carries a strong message that our behaviors, no matter their degree have an effect on the feelings of others. This novel is a plea for empathy and respect for each other. As Hannah tells us,"I guess that's the point of it all. No one knows for certain how much of impact they have on the lives of other people. Often we have no clue."
Asher has hit his target audience. Just take a quick visit to the Thirteen R3asons Why Project and peruse some of the comments from young people who have read this book. http://www.13rwproject.com/#/reviews/368
Is Thirteen Reasons Why perfect? No. Asher falters in a few crucial areas. Hannah's parents are non-existent. We never get to know them, nor have any inkling of Hannah's relationship with them. Nor does any villain ever seem to suffer the consequences for their behavior, not even a rapist. Finally, this could be a dangerous story in the hands of a troubled teen. For Hannah plays the ultimate game of "Gotcha!" Unfortunately, to win, you have to die.
This is a good read. It's tough, sad, and tragic. But it carries a message more positive than negative. 3.5 Rating
The Devil All the Time, Donald Ray Pollock's tales from a ghost town
“Just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters
The Devil All the Time, Donald Ray Pollock's tales from a ghost town
“Just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?
Monsters are variations from the accepted normal to a greater or a less degree. As a child may be born without an arm, so one may be born without kindness or the potential of conscience. A man who loses his arms in an accident has a great struggle to adjust himself to the lack, but one born without arms suffers only from people who find him strange. Having never had arms, he cannot miss them. To a monster the norm must seem monstrous, since everyone is normal to himself. To the inner monster it must be even more obscure, since he has no visible thing to compare with others. To a criminal, honesty is foolish. You must not forget that a monster is only a variation, and that to a monster the norm is monstrous.” ― John Steinbeck, East of Eden
I learned that there are monsters among us at a fairly young age. On a bright spring morning around 1971, I was riding to Foster's Alabama, with a high school friend. There was a car, off the road, and stuck in a ditch.
John said we should pull off and help. But something didn't look right about it. One man stood at the front of the Caddy. Another stood by the trunk. As we approached, the man by the trunk looked at me. There are some people who have nothing behind their eyes. There is no conscience, or soul there, if you will.
I screamed at John to drive, even reaching to shove the steering wheel over to swerve us back on the roadway. It was a bit of good fortune.
Everyone loved Buddy Copeland, a big fireman, who was driving his pickup to go fishing on the Black Warrior River that morning. He had a winch on his truck. Being Buddy, he pulled over to help get the car out of the ditch. When they found him, it appeared he had decided to snack on a ham sandwich before heading on to fish. A blood soaked bit of it lay on the passenger seat by the door where the gun blast had blown it from his mouth. The men who killed him were named Turk and Alexander. They had no love for Buddy. He must have seen the body of the banker in the trunk of the Caddy they had hi-jacked earlier that morning. I watched their trial.
I grew up to hunt men and women who had no conscience, no soul behind the eyes. I was an Assistant District Attorney for almost 28 years. Unlike a lot of ADAs who swaggered around with their badge and a gun on their side, I carried a gun because of need.
Although most of my police friends favored a 9mm, I preferred a Walther PK .380. I was trained to shoot by the best shots in law enforcement. "Don't be a hero. Shoot for center body mass. Double tap. Shoot to kill. You don't, they'll kill you." I was a cop's ADA. I was good at it. I played to win. If I didn't think you were guilty, I refused to take the case. I backed up an officer during an investigation more than once. It was an honor.
My job was not done from a clean office. I went to the scene. I worked cases where sons killed parents for crack money, men shook babies to death, and jealous ex-husbands killed their ex-wives in front of the kids. The baby killer is on death row. When they slip him the needle, I'll be there as a witness.
Don't let Donald Ray Pollock fool you. Knockemstiff is a real place. It's a ghost town now. The nice name for the place is Shady Glen. Look at an Ohio Map from 1919, you won't find it. Look on a 1940 map, there it is. Pollock ought to know. He lived there before heading to Chillicothe to become a laborer at a paper mill for more than thirty years. After that he got an MFA and began to write. His first book is, you guessed it, Knockemstiff. Sherwood Anderson's advice to William Faulkner was good. "Write what you know." Otherwise, we might never have known about Yoknapatawpha County.
I've known places like Knockemstiff. I worked two homicided that ended up on Tuscaloosa's side of the County Line that separated us from Walker County. What began in Walker County ended up down on the Tiger Mine Strip Pit Road. It's a lonely place, where the maggots do their job if the body's not found soon enough.
As Pollock tells us, law enforcement didn't show up much in Knockemstiff. Neither did Walker County Law like to escort Tuscaloosa ADAs up on their Beat 10 road. It was a rough place. The people didn't trust outsiders. I took my own cop friends with me when I had to interview witnesses on Beat 10. They weren't any happier about it than I was.
The Devil All the Time begins idyllically enough. Willard Russell has survived war in the Pacific Theater in WWII. He's on his way home to Coal Creek, West Virginia to his parents home. But a stop in Meade, Ohio, leads him to a diner, the Wooden Spoon, where he meets a waitress named Charlotte. She's a woman he can't forget.
Although he returns to Coal Creek, he finds his mother has picked out a bride for him. Helen is an unattractive young woman. But Willard's mother had promised Helen's mother she'd look out after the poor thing when Helen's mother died.
Willard can't forget Charlotte, returns to Meade and marries her. They rent a house up in the hollers of Knockemsstiff from a cuckolded lawyer. They are happy. Willard and Charlotte have a son, Arvin Eugene. All's well until Charlotte gets the Cancer and Willard constructs an altar out of a fallen log. He and Arvin pray aloud there at the log for Charlotte's recovery. But their prayers are unanswered.
Willard must believe in an Old Testament God. If the prayers don't work by themselves, God must require blood sacrifice. Dogs, sheep, and larger game are strung up and bled to cover the prayer log in an offering satisfying to God. But if God is anywhere around, he's not in Knockemstiff.
Disconsolate from Charlotte's death, Willard cuts his throat at the prayer log, leaving Arvin Eugene an orphan. When Arvin reports his father's death to Deputy Leo Bodecker, he takes him to the bloody clearing in the woods.
"'Goodamn it, Boy,what the hell is this?'
"It's a prayer log,' Arvin said, his voice barely a whisper.
"What? A prayer log?'
Arvin stared at his father's body, 'But it don't work,' he said."
Arvin is sent to live with his grandparents back in Coal Creek. It seems he has a new sister, Leonore. She is the daughter of Helen, the woman Willard's mother had wanted him to marry.
Helen had taken up with a travelling preacher, Roy, who was accompanied by a paraplegic guitarist named Theodore. After Leonore's birth, Roy becomes convinced that if he could bring someone back from the dead, the audiences at his revival would grow by leaps and bounds. God must have been on vacation again. Leonore is just as much an orphan as Arvin Eugene. They come to view one another as brother and sister. Roy and Theodore take it on the lam after the Lazarus routine fails to take.
Years pass. Leo Bodecker, now sheriff, has a new set of problems on his hands. His sister Sandy is peddling her ass out of the restaurant where she waitresses. It seems his old opposition, the former Sheriff is rallying support for a new campaign. Sandy is complaint number one. Leo has got to do about his Sister's indiscriminate exercise of her sexuality, which is bounteously generous. The problem seems to be solved when Sandy settles down with Carl Henderson, a real shutterbug, who whisks Sandy away from town on extended vacations to add to his portfolio.
But there are no easy solutions in The Devil All the Time Carl's idea of a vacation is to wander the back roads picking up hitchhikers using Sandy as his bait. His favorite line of photography is taking photographs of Sandy in the arms of their unfortunate hitchikers, whom Carl dispatches with proficiency, documenting the whole sordid mess on film, developing his work in a private darkroom.
Meanwhile, down in Coal Creek, Arvin Eugene, protector of Leonore, discovers that the new Preacher had rather administer to the youngest of his congregation, including Leonore. When Pastor Teagarden impregnates Leonore, he rejects her, moving on to younger and more attractive congregants.
If God is present anywhere in he finds himself the incarnation of Arvin Eugene, who is packing his father Willard's Luger 9mm pistol, which he had traded for his own Nambu pistol taken as a souvenir ln the Pacific. Fleeing from Coal Creek, following meting out the Lord's vengeance on the misguided Reveverend, Arvin begins the long hitchike back to Knockemstiff.
In an almost incredible symmetry, who should stop to give him a lift but our happy serial killers Sandy and Carl. Arvin Eugene may be the most handsome model, the couple has ever scored. But Arvin is alert and most rescue himself from the shutterbug two which will not endear himself to sheriff Leo Bodecker.
Bodecker and Arvin take one last walk to the prayer log. Whether God is present, or the Devil laughs at one more triumph, the reader must discover for himself.
Pollock is a remarkable new voice in American literature. While he obviously shares comparison with Flannery O'Connor, none of O'Connor's theology is readily apparent in Pollock's work. Rather, picture William Gay decked out in clean carpenter's overalls, and read Provinces of Night or, among the most grotesque, Twilight. Here are the darkest aspects of Cormac McCarthy, and Tom Franklin as seen in Poachers.
Once again, in Donald Ray Pollock we have a novelist who writes that there are monsters among us and that to the monstrous, the norm is simply montrous....more
The Night Train: Clyde Edgerton's Mix of Jazz, Soul, and Life on Both Sides of the Tracks
"Ladies and Gentlemen, are YOU READY? LIVE FROM THE APOLLO, IThe Night Train: Clyde Edgerton's Mix of Jazz, Soul, and Life on Both Sides of the Tracks
"Ladies and Gentlemen, are YOU READY? LIVE FROM THE APOLLO, IT'S JAMES BROWN!!!"
I can't find Starke on any North Carolina map, anymore than I can find Listre on a map of that State. But Clyde Edgerton has the knack of convincing his readers they're real places, and if not, they should be.
I've been an Edgerton fan since the publication of his first novel Raney. The Night Train: A Novel is his tenth novel. It's full of the gentle humor and charm to which his readers have become accustomed. But there's a bit more of an edge to this Edgerton than most--but not enough of one.
It's 1963 and Edgerton brings the year alive with allusions to popular cultural events. Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" is playing at the theater in East Stark. It's not playing at the theater in West Starke. For, you see, Starke is divided down the middle by a railroad track. If you live on the East Side of the tracks, most likely you're white. If you live West of the tracks, you're most likely black, see the second run movies, live in poorer houses, and work for the folks who live on the East side for little of nothing.
Theater Poster for "The Birds"
So, it's unusual that two unlikely young men become fast friends. Dwayne Hallston 3works in his father's furniture refinishing business. Larry Lime works side by side with him. But he's black. Their friendship is questionable. Each is aware that Dwayne's father wouldn't approve of their socializing.
But each is bound to the other by their love of music. Larry learned piano from the organist down at his church. However, Larry knows that much more is involved with music than the simple chords played on the church piano. It's Jazz that lures Larry to learn what else is out there. Dwayne is enthralled by R&B, but, goodness gracious, white people don't play that stuff.
The rumblings of the Civil Rights Movement are rolling up from Mississippi and Alabama. Back in February 1961, four black students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College began a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth's lunch counter. Although they were refused service, they were allowed to stay at the counter. The event triggered many similar nonviolent protests throughout the South. Six months later the original four protesters were served lunch at the same Woolworth's counter. Student sit-ins would be effective throughout the Deep South in integrating parks, swimming pools, theaters, libraries, and other public facilities.
A section of the Greensboro, NC, Woolworth's Lunch Counter now preserved in the Smithsonian Institute
News of the sit ins has reached Stark. The local Klan is rumbling that something ought to be done to put those people in their place. But in Clyde Edgerton's world, the local Klan just don't have the meanness of the Klan down in Mississippi and Alabama. Short shrift is given to the tragedy of Emmett Till. I don't recall any mention of Rosa Parks refusal to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. And, although, Medgar Evers was gunned down the summer in which The Night Train occurs, there's no mention of that either. However, the minister over in West Starke is friends with this fellow Martin Luther King, Jr. That's causing some consternation among the white citizenry, but little more happens than folks getting the jitters.
In typical fashion, Edgerton succinctly points out the foolishness of racism in his description of the people of Stark, both black and white.
"People from both sides of the track in Starke ate about the same amount--per capita--of corn bread, chicken, vegetables, pork, pies, cakes, stews...
We could accurately say that the railroad divided a community of corn bread, vegetable, and chicken eaters; or a community of pet lovers, or a community of rural dialects, of families with men who hunted quail and rabbits; people who owned chickens; women who cooked and sewed; or people who had, in their lifetimes, 'worked in tobacco'--picked it, carted it behind mule or tractor, tied it to sticks, hung it in barns to cure, took it to the market, complained about suckering and sand lugging.
And since about the same percentage of people called themselves Christian on both sides of thetrack, we could say that the railroad track divided a single Christian community. But something begins to break down there, doesn't it? The truths of their pasts gave each group a different God (one of deliverance, the other of dominion), a different mode of worship service (one with energy and joy trumping solemnity and fear, the other almost reversing that). And their histories brought hardships to the people of West Starke not understood by the people of East Starke, and guilt to the East not understood by anybody--a guilt that if moving in a lake, would leave the surface flat calm.
Larry Lime is taken under the wing of the Bleeder, a hemophiliac white jazz musician, who recognizes Larry's talent. Before long Larry's understanding what Theolonius Monk is all about. And to help his friend Dwayne who has formed his own group, The Amazing Rumblers, Larry teaches Dwayne and his buddies some riffs they would never have gotten on their own. Larry's method is to give Dwayne the immortal album "Live at the Apollo," featuring the one and only James Brown. GOOD GAWD!
Live at the Apollo Featuring James Brown and the Flames
Now the big dawg in Stark is a fellow named Barclay who runs a dog food plant. Barclay's up with the times and starts a Saturday Night television show featuring local talent auditioned on a weekly basis. Larry Lime and his kin are never going to make it on that show. But Dwayne and the Amazing Rumblers are a sure thing. When the Rumblers take the stage, everything's just fine when they play through a routine country western hit. But all Hell breaks loose when the audience calls for an encore.
(view spoiler)[Although the Rumblers are scheduled to play Hank Williams' "I Saw the Light," Dwayne transforms into James Brown complete with all the moves, and all the lyrics of "The Night Train." The all white audience is dumbfounded. The good folk of Stark, NC, were just introduced to Soul Music, whether they wanted it or not. And Larry Lime, he went on to become a Jazzman. (hide spoiler)]
In his own gently humorous way Clyde Edgerton deals with the sensitive issues of race relations in a small Southern Town. I suppose it was his version of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." Is it a good read? Oh, yes. It's as good as I've come to expect from Clyde Edgerton. However, Edgerton's conclusion amounts to a fractured fairy tale of a violent and turbulent era. It would have been nice if things had happened that way. But they didn't. For Edgerton's story, all I can say is, "Wouldn't it be pretty to think so?"
Perhaps I'm just being a bit too serious today. However treating The Night Train as reality is about like judging people of color on the basis of watching "Amos and Andy."
The Hunter, Donald Westlake aka Richard Stark writes the first Parker Novel
I wrote an absolutely brilliant review of The Hunter: A Parker Novel last nThe Hunter, Donald Westlake aka Richard Stark writes the first Parker Novel
I wrote an absolutely brilliant review of The Hunter: A Parker Novel last night. Trust me, it really was. Then it simply vanished. The laptop hiccuped and all those wonderful words went off to where good words go to die.
Richard Stark was a guy I had never heard of until I joined goodreads group Pulp Fiction. Donald E Westlake, I had heard of. I was in Junior High School when I read Fugitive Pigeon. It was a stitch, although it was probably a good thing the Mum didn't monitor my reading that closely.
Now comes another confession. I find myself doing that a lot these days. I (shhhhhh....) have a Nook. I'm basically a cheapskate about some things. That way I can save up and by signed first editions.
About being a cheapskate, I chose Nook over Kindle because I can take that little Nook to a brick and mortar B&N and read a book for free for an hour at a time per day. Yes. FREE. Of course, I buy a cup of coffee, sip on that, and check out the scenery passing by. Tuscaloosa is a college town. The University of Alabama typically supplies a bounty of beauty to Playboy's "The Girls of the SEC." I only know that from what I read in the news. I stopped reading Playboy for the interviews a few decades back. Of course, I say that with a completely straight face.
We are in a false spring. It has been unusually warm for January. The daffodils are popping as are the paper whites, snow bells and the like. The Saucer Magnolias and the Mock Orange bushes are completely confused.
Yesterday was the perfect afternoon to head over to B&N, have a coffee and finish off Parker in The Hunter. Finishing off Parker isn't the proper terminology. The series extended over 45 years, the last Parker, Dirty Money, appearing in 2008, the year that Westlake/Stark died. The University of Chicago Press began reprinting the Parker series that same year, and Westlake gave a helluva interview regarding his writing, with some particular points on his creation of Parker.
The Hunter came out as a Pocket Book in December, 1962. Christopher Lehman Haupt, an astute reviewer for the New York Times picked up that something special was going on when he reviewed it in January 1963. He waxed eloquently on the virtues of the novel and said that this debut novelist was no new voice. This novel had to be the work of a seasoned crime writer. Of course, he was right. It was Donald Westlake, the seasoned writer, hiding behind the pseudonym of Richard Stark because he was already under contract with two other publishers under different names.
" When Bucklyn Moon of Pocket Books said he wanted to publish The Hunter, if I’d help Parker escape the law at the end so I could write more books about him, I was at first very surprised. He was the bad guy in the book.
More than that, I’d done nothing to make him easy for the reader; no smalltalk, no quirks, no pets. I told myself the only way I could do it is if I held onto what Buck seemed to like, the very fact that he was a compendium of what your lead character should not be. I must never soften him, never make him user-friendly, and I’ve tried to hold to that."
How did Westlake make it hard for the reader? Merely calling Parker the bad guy in the book is an understatement. Parker is completely amoral. He is a heist man. And he will kill you to keep what he steals. He is relentless, ruthless, and remorseless.
To simply call Parker a thief doesn't encompass the degree of violence the man can inflict. If your idea of a heist caper is Topkapi and you like your thieves smooth, suave, and svelte cat burglars as Cary Grant in Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief, or urbane and witty as David Niven, in the original Pink Panther, Richard Stark is not your kind of author and Parker is not your kind of thief.
Hold the champagne and caviar. A cold beer and a bloody burger is more appropriate fare when reading Richard Stark.
Yes, Parker's debut is a heist caper. We meet him as he's entering New York City in search of his wife Lynne and a man named Mal Resnick. Why? They took something of his and he wants it back.
Westlake/Stark plays with plot in the manner of Quentin Tarentino in Pulp Fiction. The plot line jumps from present to past and back again before the full why is revealed. And The Hunter is a quick brutal read. A few coffees and a few hours here and there at B&N , you're done. It's not even like Chinese food that leaves you hungry in a few hours. The end of The Hunter draws you immediately to the next, again, all yours for free with your trusty Nook and a few hours to spare. You will feel that you're as guilty of under tipping as Parker consistently does with every meal he takes. I'm not worried about it.
What is it that has fascinated so many readers about Parker? He is the anti-hero. Some critics have defined him simply as the perfect non-hero. It's a question of degree. Evil is relative. Parker is a hardworking professional stiff. Mal, his cohort in crime is a Syndicate man. The Syndicate is an insidious network of goombahs holding one another up for the greater good of the chiefs up the line who prefer to call themselves "The Organization." It's rather like cheering for Rudolph Hess to cut a separate peace with England and kick Hitler's legs out from beneath him.
Then there's Parker's prep, method, logic, and thoroughness in carrying out any plan he makes. He's careful. And this time, he has the element of surprise on his side. Everyone involved in the heist where Parker was set up by Mal is either dead or believes Parker is dead.
Parker will stop at nothing to get what belongs to him. He'll even take on the whole Syndicate, the Outfit, as the mob's soldiers call it.
Women? Oh, they notice him. It's the hands they notice first. The face that appears to have been chiseled out of concrete. The veins that bulge and ripple beneath his huge hands, women instinctively know are made for slapping. But they're also indicative of something else bulging with rippling veins beneath his slacks that sends a shiver up their skirts. As Westlake says, Parker is a man who will fall on a woman like a tree. Sexist? Yes. Chauvinistic? Yes. Shamelessly so. But face it, I've known many women who were attracted to the Parkers out there. After all, I did direct a domestic violence shelter. And this behavior is another aspect of what makes Parker the unlikeable character he is.
The 2008 Westlake interview provides further insight into the fascination for Parker's violence.
"Question: Most of the characters who get hurt in these novels are tastelessly dressed, arrogant, dim, lazy or fussy; they whine about their wives, and they definitely don’t appreciate hard work. Parker may not abide by most moral codes, but whenever a character behaves like a complete jerk, his or her life expectancy goes down. Why is this?
Westlake: I hadn’t looked at it that way, but I suppose it must relate to Hemingway’s judgment on people, that the competent guy does it on his own and the incompetents lean on each other.
And Parker knows how to lean on the incompetents.
It's coming on mid-afternoon. The wind's down, rain's gone, and the temperature is rising into the 70s. It's about time for a cup of coffee. Think I'll have it over at Barnes & Noble. I've got a bad case of early spring fever.
Some of my more erudite compadres have been pondering weighty literary matters from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49. Me? I think I'll hang around down here on the low road for a while. After that coffee, I think I'll head over to a classic 1940s road house called the Oasis. The neon cactus is pretty at night. The juke box is loaded. The waitress calls me "Hon." The beer is cold and the burgers are bloody. Yeah. I got friends....more
Extremely Loud and Incredbily Close: Jonathan Foer's novel of love, loss, and memory
There are events that leave an indelible stamp on us for a great pExtremely Loud and Incredbily Close: Jonathan Foer's novel of love, loss, and memory
There are events that leave an indelible stamp on us for a great portion of our lives. This happens from generation to generation.
Ask those living at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor where they were and what they were doing, they will be able to tell you the answer. Similarly, ask me where I was when I heard John F. Kennedy was shot, I can tell you.
Ask what I was doing when the attacks of 9/11 occurred, I can tell you. I had arrived at work at the District Attorney's Office. My chief side kick with whom I was working prep for a trial, ran into the grand jury room and said turn on the television. I did. What I saw was something I could not accept.
Jonathan Foer goes far past the point of remembrance. Foer drops you into the shoes of 8 year old Oskar Schell. For him, 9/11 is not simply an event which he will remember for its historical significance. It is an event he lives daily because he lost his father that day. And the event is brought home to him, for he has a cell phone with his father's messages sent from the twin towers that day. This is a secret he keeps from his mother, for he wants to protect her from the pain of those messages. It is an incredible burden for a child to bear.
Oskar is left with a gamut of guilt and fears, resulting in a state of vicarious traumatic response to his father's death. His grief is all the more palpable because he is extremely gifted and incredibly cursed with an intelligence far more gifted than children his age.
Oskar shared a bond with his father, who fostered that intelligence, by devoting great attention on his son, gently lulling him to sleep at nights by reading him the New York Times and circling the errors they found in red ink. His father challenged Oskar's intelligence by setting up questions for Oskar to solve, leaving clues amounting to a trail of breadcrumbs leading him to a solution of the problems he designed for him.
Or did he? Did his father actually do this? Or is this something which Oskar has perceived in his mind alone?
The action of this novel occurs a year after the fall of the Towers. Oskar is still dealing with the traumatization of his father's loss. In an effort to keep the memory of his father close, Oskar frequently hides in his father's closet where the scent of his father's shaving still lingers in his mind, if only in his mind.
A bundle of memories and his fears cripple Oskar in his dealings with others, especially his schoolmates, whom are not affected by the fall of the Towers as Oskar is. Nor does Oskar perceive his mother to be as deeply affected by the loss of his father. She has a new friend, Ron, who becomes a frequent visitor to the apartment. Oskar hears their laughter in the living room, as he hides in his father's closet. At one point, typical of a child, he tells his mother he wishes it had been her who died that day. It is something a child would say, intentionally hurting the remaining parent, then immediately struck with the hurt he inflicted on his mother whom he loved without question.
There are strong clues that while Oskar is undoubtedly a prodigy of intelligence far beyond his years, that Oskar just might suffer from more than childhood fears. Is it that Oskar is afflicted by Asperger's Syndrome? A look into the Diagnostic Services Manual--I believe we're in the fifth edition of that psychological cookbook, now, reveals that this is a distinct possibility.
Oskar is enveloped in a net of pattern and design, a characteristic shared by children with this diagnosis. He is awkward in his social interactions. Nor does he seem to grasp the results of his actions in social settings. Play on words which Oskar finds hilarious are lost and misunderstood by those around him. Oskar's behavior in filling daybooks with events that have happened to him, including other tragic events occurring before and after 9/11 take on a ritualistic quality, echoing some of the characteristics shared by those diagnosed with Asperger's, which is considered a sub diagnosis of autism. It is a matter of degree, not an exclusion from that diagnosis.
That Oskar is unaware of the consequences of his behavior on his teacher and his fellow students is clear. In graphic detail, he explains the results of the bombing of Hiroshima, sharing a video interview with a survivor of the first use of an atomic bomb against a civilian population.
That Osckar's last name is Schell is a clever device used to great benefit by Foer. For Oskar is a veritable Chambered Nautilus consisting of impenetrable chambers of secrets revealed only by gently bisecting the shell of a nautilus.
Oskar's mother carries her son to be counseled by Doctor Fein, who is anything but fine in his ability to reach Oskar and release him from all the fears held within him, brought about from his father's death.
It is only through Oskar's discovery of one last mystery he believes was left him by his father to solve, that Oskar begins to live outside himself and become engaged with people outside his immediate family that just might allow him to move forward from the prison of the loss of his father.
Quite by accident, Oskar spies a blue vase on the top shelf of his father's closet. Stacking his works of Shakespeare in his father's closet, Oskar stretches to reach the vase, only to tip it off the shelf, shattering it on the floor of the closet. It contains a key, with an envelope. Written on the envelope is the word "Black" written in red ink.
Oskar determines that the answer to his father's last mystery is the key and someone named Black. Although the number of locks in New York City is mind shattering, Oskar, a child of the internet, decides to track down all the Blacks in New York City in an effort to find the secret of what the key opens.
It is this journey, if anything, that will allow Oskar to move beyond the death of his father and live his own life.
Foer, in a display of brilliance, introduces us to Oskar's grandmother and the grandfather, Oskar never knew. Thomas Schell, for whom Oskar's father was named, also is trapped within the memories of another terrible incident in Human history, the firebombing of Dresden. The elder Thomas, although once capable of speech, can no longer speak a word, but communicates by writing in blank day books. He disappeared before the birth of Oskar's father.
We learn of the elder Thomas's history through his letters to his unborn child and through his life with Oskar's grandmother, who lives in an apartment building across the street from Oskar. Oskar and his grandmother communicate by walkie talkies at all times of the day and night.
It is through the writings of the elder Thomas Schell that we experience first hand the horror of living through one of the great acts of inhumanity against man--the fire bombing of Dresden during World War II by the Royal Airforce and the United States 8th Airforce from February 13-15th, 1945. Those events leave Thomas Schell a man forever changed.
The beauty of Foer's novel is the answer he provides in the resolution of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. We recover from the tragedies of our lives through the bonds we share with others. This is the ultimate beauty of life.
While some critics, and some readers, find Foer's novel, manipulative and cloyingly sweet, I find it an affirmation of life. To paraphrase Faulkner's Nobel Acceptance Speech, it is through reaching out to others that not only are we able to endure, it is the way we prevail.
This is a solid 6 Stars literary masterpiece. If it makes you cry, take joy for the fact Foer reminds us we are human, not only capable of acts of inhumanity, but also capable of acts of great love and forgiveness....more
It is 1974 in Butler, Pennsylvania. Arthur is fourteen. His older sister, Astrid is in military service, flying high over Russia, photographing bits and pieces of a very cold country in a very cold war. But the real war is back in Butler, on the home front.
Arthur's mother and father are splitting up. His mother explains to him that she loved another man and his father could not forgive her. She adds that she was not the villainess, Arty's father had his own women on the side.
At the same time, Annie Marchand, the perfect babysitter who had watched Arthur and Astrid while their parents lived out the motions of happiness in a marriage, has problems of her own. Life hasn't turned out well for the pretty babysitter, now grown, married, and the mother of a beautiful little girl, Tara.
Annie's problem is her husband Glenn. He's not a bad sort. In fact, he's so damned nice. He's the excited puppy, bouncing from job to job that he can never keep. No matter how good his intentions, Glenn finds reasons to be late for work. Too much booze. Too little interest. Another job hunt. Annie soldiers on as the family breadwinner, a waitress at the club, overlooking the golf course.
It is a cold winter afternoon. Mr. Chervinick has the band practicing out on the soccer field, preparing for the last half-time show of the football season. Arthur, in the trombone line, a highschool freshman, numbly marches through the drill routine, obliques and a whirlwind maneuver that Chervinick calls the tornado, a movement the band never can perform to their director's satisfaction.
As Jimmy Buffet sings, "There ain't to reason to hurricane season." A tornado is something that can't be controlled, nor can a high school band replicate its movements on a practice field.
During their attempt to swirl and twirl across the practice field, gunshots ring out. This is where our story begins.
From that point on, O'Nan deftly weaves the stories of Arthur and Annie's families. There is a terrible beauty in the symmetry of the death of two marriages. After stormy screaming matches between his mother and father, Arthur's family dissolves in a whimper. Annie's ends in those gunshots that reverberate over the practice field.
Moving between the voices of Arthur, Annie, her bad boy lover, Brock, and husband Glenn, slowly spiralling into madness, Snow Angels sings with the power of a Greek chorus in building to an unavoidably tragic conclusion.
While O'Nan weaves all the strands of a spider's intricate web of emotion, interspersed are moments of dark humor as Arthur suffers the consequences of his parents' divorce. No longer able to sustain two homes equivalent to their former household, Arthur finds himself living in the most efficient of efficiency apartments, a former retreat for ministers, now converted into family apartments. The chapel has been demolished, but its foundation stands as a reminder of its former role. It is a place Arthur and his bus mates laughed at on their way to school. It is the home of twin sisters Lily and Lila, also the butt of Arthur and his friends crude humor. Now Arthur waits for the bus with Lily and Lila, slowly finding himself attracted to Lila. He wonders what she would look like without her glasses and what her body might be like underneath the home sewn clothes she wears.
We follow Arthur through obtaining his learner's permit, his father's sporadic and awkward weekend visits. Arthur's father teaches him to drive in a battered car belonging to his paternal aunt. His mother, also a waitress, as is Annie, has kept the family Country Squire, the quintessential automotive image of the perfect family's perfect automobile, a reminder of family vacations during happier days. These days cannot be recreated. They can only be remembered.
Astrid appears as a distant voice on telephone calls from Germany. She is removed from the cold war at home. Although she asks Arthur if he would like her to take leave and come home as he doesn't seem to be taking care of their mother, clearly she has no intention of doing so. Arthur takes satisfaction in knowing where her secret stash of weed is, the pipes, the bongs, the papers. That will show her.
We watch as Arthur sets out on his trek to adulthood, desperately trying to arrive there in the arms of Lila. She's very nice without her glasses on. And, oh God, the bra is off. Oh, God, what is beneath that awful binding garment is beyond Arthur's wildest dreams. And the wheels on the bus go round and round. What a reminiscence--the opening of the old television show, "Ben Casey." Perhaps you remember it. "Man. Woman. Birth. Death. Infinity." http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=... That's O'Nan's marvelous novel in a nutshell.
Snow angels. I've made them as a child. I've watched my children make them. Giddy moments of the exhilaration of being a child and alive. In this novel, snow angels are not symbols of happiness but the bleak harbingers of unhappiness and a tornado of death and violence that will forever haunt the reader.
Yes, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. This novel almost makes you wonder if there is such a thing as reincarnation.
Born in 1961, Stewart O'Nan took his MFA from Cornell in 1992. His short story collection, In the Walled City, was awarded the Druse Heinz in 1993. His manuscript of Snow Angels captured the first Pirate's Alley Faulkner Prize for the Novel, awarded by the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society of New Orleans in 1993. The novel was published in January, 1994.
O'Nan's latest novel is The Odds, out January, 2012. I'll have Mr. O'Nan sign that at the Alabama Booksmith in Homewood, Alabama on January 23, this week, when I'll also respectfully ask him to sign my copy of this novel and his award winning collection of short fiction, In the Walled City.
Stewart O'Nan's A Prayer for the Dying, A Reminiscence for the Living
It is slightly after 12:30 a.m. But I am not sleeping. I have just completed A PrStewart O'Nan's A Prayer for the Dying, A Reminiscence for the Living
It is slightly after 12:30 a.m. But I am not sleeping. I have just completed A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O'Nan. Rarely have I read a novel that I am compelled to review immediately upon completing it. But this is one.
Much has gone on in my personal life since a killer tornado passed through our town, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on April 27th. Shortly afterward, my mother developed a serious case of pneumonia. Although the pneumonia was cured, she was immediately diagnosed with emphysema. A spot on the lung in an x-ray, which might have been a mere shadow was cancer. Next she was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension. The diagnoses were numbing. However the prognosis was good. She was released from the hospital on a relatively small amount of oxygen, small enough to allow her to travel about with one of those portable units that you've perhaps seen people walking around with, nothing more than what you might see in a stylish shoulder bag.
In August, my mother had her second bout of pneumonia. She came home with an oxygen concentrator delivering nine liters of oxygen per minute. Our traveling days were over. I promised her that she would remain in her home as long as possible. My wife and I moved into my Mother's home. From August till now, I put my law practice on hold. I am an only child. The duty of being the primary caregiver was mine and mine alone.
The oncologist said that it appeared the radiation treatment had done its job. When she returned the end of this month, she expected to find nothing but a small amount of scar tissue. We were all optimistic.
Last week, something was obviously wrong. The shortest walk, even tethered to nine liters of oxygen wasn't enough to keep her from being physically exhausted. I got one of those small flyweight wheelchairs to get her from den to bath and bedroom.
On last Thursday evening, my mother began to choke. She was gasping for breath. Although she had stubbornly insisted that she would ride out this long journey at home, she told me to call 911. The front of the house was reflected in reds and blues from the emergency vehicles that parked alongside the front of the house and filled the driveway.
It was a trip by ambulance to our hospital. It was a long night in the emergency room. About 3:30 am. she was admitted to the acute stroke unit. It was not that she had a stroke, it was the only monitored bed available in the entire hospital.
On Saturday, she was moved to a regular respiratory floor monitored bed. I was glad. So was she. Visiting hours were limited to only thirty minutes every four hours on the stroke unit. On the floor, my wife and I, my aunt and two of her grandchildren were able to keep her company.
But, I couldn't help but notice that what had been 9 liters of oxygen was now 15, an incredibly significant increase. Yesterday, about 8:25 am, mother was admitted to intensive care. The fifteen liters were not holding her.
The irony of the situation is that I had begun reading O'Nan's "A Prayer for the Dying" that very morning. I carried it with me to the hospital during the long visiting hours.
I read sporadically through the day. A day of hospital visiting is not conducive to uninterrupted reading. Most of the day passed in conversation with my mother as her breathing allowed. But when I came home that night, I was immersed in O'Nan's novel about a small Wisconsin Township called Friendship.
It begins on a beautiful summer day. It is 1866. The American Civil War is still fresh on the minds of the citizens of Friendship. Jacob Hansen, himself, a veteran, who fought extensively in the Kentucky campaigns, has returned to Friendship where, seen as a natural leader, he is the town constable, undertaker and deacon of his church, where he frequently fills in as preacher.
Jacob carries out his duties with great satisfaction over a job well done. He has a happy home life, married to the beautiful Marta, and the proud father of their young daughter Amelia, who has just gotten her first tooth.
1866 is a year when it is still not unusual to see veterans of the war looking for their next meal, or next place to sleep. When Jacob is summoned to a nearby farm of a bee keeper, his attention is first diverted to the drone of the bees and the keepers industry in gathering honey from the hives, raking the sweet from the combs rich with the golden treat. It is a beautiful day, blue skies, bright sunshine, with dots of clouds scudding across the sky in the hot summer breeze.
The bee keeper calmly tells Jacob that there is a deadman behind the hives down in the woods. One of his sons will carry him to the body's location. Jacob immediately recognizes him as one of the many wandering veterans homeless,bivouacking wherever he can find a spot. Jacob notes that his pockets have been turned inside out. One of his few belongings, a tin cup, frequently issued to troops is readily recognized by Jacob.
The farmer and his children all deny having touched anything. But Jacob suspects that the bee keeper who has lost his wife recently would not be above picking the pockets of a dead soldier to search for anythng of value. Jacob notes the odd coloration of the dead soldier's skin and the presence of blood about his nose and lips. Doc Cox must take a look at the dead man. There's not a mark on his body.
Jacob enlists one of the bee keeper's sons to carry the body into the Doctor's Office. Jacob drops the soldier's tin cup. The youngest child "Bitsy" politely hands Jacob the cup. On the ride into town, Jacob spies the body of a woman in a pasture. Upon checking on her, she is alive, but mad. She is obviously a resident of the Colony outside of Friendship, run by the Reverend Grace. Rumors abound around Friendship concerning the possibility of lewd behavior of the women residents there, with the Reverend Grace as their satanic leader in all possible improprities.
Upon arriving in town, the dead man and the mad woman are placed into the care of the local Doctor. The Doc rapidly diagnoses the soldier's deat as being caused by diptheria. At that time, diptheria was a dreaded disease, highly contagious, that spread like wild fire. The Colony resident also shows signs of infection as well. The Doctor cautions Jacob not to drain the body for preservation, but to bury it, not exposing himself to any possibility of infection. Yet, Jacob, out of his respect for the dead, properly drains the soldier's body, filling him with formaldehyde to properly prepare the body for burial.
Jacob continues to enjoy his idyllic life with Marta and daughter Amelia. However, it is evident that Diptheria is spreading rapidly throughout Friendship, its source unknown. Marta begs Jacob to allow her to take Amelia and seek safety with relatives in a nearby town. But Jacob reassures her that all will be well and cautions her that it would serve as a poor example to the Township were he to allow his wife and child to seek safety elsewhere.
Soon, Jacob is dealing with a full blown epidemic of Diptheria, resulting in the quarantine of the town--no one leaves and no one comes in.
What begins as an idyllic summer day turns Friendship into Hell itself. Although Jacob's personal life may disintegrate around him, he will continue to perform his duties as constable, deacon and undertaker.
Interestingly, each of Jacob's honorable judgments lead to more dire circumstances for the people of Friendship. Jacob's effort to do the honorable thing lead him from being beloved of the town, to despised, as he enforces the quarantine. Tension mounts as a wild fire burns out of control towards Friendship. Jacob must save those untouched by the sickness and leave those infected to the flames. It is a decision that will tear him apart.
This afternoon, I presented my mother's living will to the nurse's station directing a do not resuscitate order on her chart. My mother's primary physician met with us to tell us that all that could be done had been done. Mother reiterated no ventilator, that she did not wish to prolong her illness. I shared a special friendship with my mother. She always rode shotgun on my rambling day trips no matter how boring it may have been for her. Those trips ended in May of 2011. I will miss them greatly.
Any work of an author is a living thing. It serves as an interaction between author and reader. O'Nan will never have any idea of how he spoke to me of bravery, duty, responsibility, love and sacrifice. Nor will he ever know how I have come to appreciate the growing loneliness of Jacob Hansen. I am thankful for the comfort of the company of my wife. But I owe Stewart O'Nan a debt of gratitude. It is in this interaction between reader and author that books continue to live long after they have gone into print. It is this connection between reader and writer that gives life to books and causes them to breathe.
For my Mother, Ann M. Sullivan, August 27, 1935 till time stops. Prl...more