Review forthcoming. Join "On the Southern Literary Trail" for a chance to win John Mantooth's debut novel. You're in for one very dark ride. John's. n...moreReview forthcoming. Join "On the Southern Literary Trail" for a chance to win John Mantooth's debut novel. You're in for one very dark ride. John's. novel goes public June 4, 2013.(less)
The Girl Who Swam to Atlantis: Elle Thornton's Novel Keeping the Spirit of Emmett Till Alive
DO YOU KNOW THIS YOUNG MAN?
I did not. Not until college....moreThe Girl Who Swam to Atlantis: Elle Thornton's Novel Keeping the Spirit of Emmett Till Alive
DO YOU KNOW THIS YOUNG MAN?
I did not. Not until college. I grew up in a segregated South. The only blacks I knew were the housekeepers who helped raise me. They were the most important women in my life aside from my Mother and Grandmother. I was taught to call them "Ma'am."
This young man is Emmett Till. He was born in Chicago, Illinois, July 21, 1941, the son of Mamie and Louis Till. In the summer of 1955, he visited relatives in the small town of Money, Mississippi. On August 28, 1955, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, two white men, kidnapped young Emmett Till from his great Uncle's house, beat and shot him to death, and threw his body into the Tallahatchie River weighted down with a cotton gin fan motor tied to his neck with barbed wire. The reason? Emmett Till allegedly whistled at Roy's wife Carolyn at their Bryant Grocery.
Scene of the infamous wolf whistle
As most criminals, Bryant and Milam didn't know that it would take a substantially greater weight to keep a body submerged. Three days later, Emmett Till's unrecognizable body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River.
Mamie Till made a startling and bold decision. She had her son's body shipped home to Chicago and insisted on an open casket ceremony. Over fifty thousand Chicago residents paid their respects to Emmett Till and his family.
Mamie Till did not stop with the open casket ceremony. She allowed Jet Magazine to cover the story of her son's murder, including photographs of the decomposed face of her young son in their magazine. The story and the shocking photographs appeared in the September 15, 1955, issue of Jet. And it was a story that shocked and horrified a nation.
A spoiler alert is posted here because of the graphic nature of the photographs hidden herein. (view spoiler)[ Fourteen year old Emmett Till in his casket(hide spoiler)]
The injustice of the murder of Emmett Till continued. Bryant and Milam were tried for Emmett Till's murder. They were acquitted.
Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam on trial
Subsequently Alabama author William Bradford Huie interviewed the killers. They brazenly admitted their crime. Double Jeopardy prevented retrial for their heinous offense. At that time no such thing as a Federal 1983 Action for Violation of the Civil Rights of an Individual existed. These two killers got away with murder to brag about it.
Look Magazine, January 24, 1956
The Significance of the Story of Emmett Till
Every movement has its martyrs. The Civil Rights Movement has many. However, the murder of Emmett Till was the flashpoint of the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama on December 1, 1955. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., 1955
Woolworth's, Greensboro, North Carolina, February 1, 1960
Would it have happened but for the murder of Emmett Till?
The Significance of Elle Thornton's Novel
Today it is amazing that the story of Emmett Till has faded from memory. Howard University Students studying the Greensboro Four indicated that the class did not address that the motivation of that initial confrontation came about as a result of the acquittal of Emmett Till's killers. One student, bemoaning the fact that black american students did not know about Emmett Till authored a play, "Mississippi Mourning," to raise awareness. The play celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the famed sit-in at that Woolworth's lunch counter.
Two weeks prior to the play's premier, the writer and other members of the cast began receiving threats--death threats. The murder of Emmett Till remains a national shame that some would rather remain buried in the past.
Comparisons between the Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till resulted in thousands of Tweets asking "Who is Emmett Till?"
The latest controversy surrounds Pepsi severing its relationship with rapper Lil Wayne over his inflammatory remarks regarding Emmett Till's "beat that pussy." Lil Wayne has suffered the condemnation of numerous black musicians and surviving members of Emmett Tills family. Wayne's apology to the Till family has not been accepted as not being sincere.
The Girl Who Swam to Atlantis keeps the story of Emmett Till alive. Elle Thornton has written a novel that accomplishes its task with memorable characters, a quickly moving plot, and a painfully accurate portrait of prejudice and intolerance in the South of 1957.
This is an important book. It is written for the young adult audience, an audience that has not yet been exposed to novels such as Gathering of Waters by Bernice L. McFadden or Wolf Whistle by Lewis Nordan. Yet, it stands on the same level as those two novels, because of the unique perspective of its protagonist Gabriella Winter, a young girl, twelve going on thirteen, who has an eye for what is fair, right, and just.
It is summer, 1957. Gabriella Winter has returned from St. Agatha's Boarding School to a Marine Corp base in North Carolina. Her father is the Commanding General. Gabriella should be the Queen Bee of the base. However, her mother, Maria is not on station. There is no flock of Officers' wives making the Winter household the center of social activity. Rather, Gabriella is the object of other Officers' daughters' hand me downs.
The absence of Mrs. General Winter leads Gabriella's father to have Hawkins, a black Marine, assigned to the family as a steward. Hawkins face is scarred. The Korean Conflict Combat ribbons on his Dress Blues account for the General's trust and respect for this man. Hawkins will become Gabriella's friend and guardian angel.
Throughout the novel, Thornton weaves the story of Emmett Till, whose story Gabriella has learned only a part at her Boarding School. Gabriella will face racism in forms subtle to outrageously alert.
At the Officer's Club Pool the appearance of a lithe, muscular, black Officer clears the pool as quickly as if the lifeguard had announced an approaching thunderstorm. Two white officers laugh over the ignorance of "that Emmett Till boy" who didn't know any better than to flirt with a white woman.
Gabriella asks her father if he has heard the name Emmett Till. The General resoundingly tells her she is too young to know the brutality of the world, that she is too young to even understand it.
Much to the General's surprise, Gabriella responds, "I'm too old to be as ignorant as I am." The General softens.
"Nowadays in the Marines, all men, whether they are colored or white, live, train, and fight together. They die together fighting the enemy. Remember that, Gabriella."
As summer passes, Hawkins will teach Gabriella to swim. Gabriella will learn the full story of the injustice of Emmett Till's murder from Doyle, a boy slightly older than her, who will tell her of Emmett's murderers' acquittal.
Has it not always been the case that times change as a result of the manner in which the world is perceived through the eyes of the young? Doyle is learning the Blues from other black Stewards on the base. His first song is the Willie Brown classic from 1926, "Dirty and Ragged." Bob Dylan later covered Brown's classic updating the lyrics. But this small vignette is a hopeful sign that the times are indeed a' changin'.
But not changed. Gabriella sits with Eula Mae Perkins, the aged mother of Colonel Perkins. Eula Mae whispers of Jonas and Star. Eula Mae tells her that Jonas was her black play companion in her youth. Star was the pony they rode. The Colonel insists to Gabriella that his mother has an overactive imagination and she is not to speak of his mother's stories outside the house.
Believing her mother to be in the town across the river from the base, Gabriella borrows a rowboat. She crosses the river. She observes black children swimming and playing in the distance. She considers that the spirit of Emmett Till watches over them all. To her, she is on a quest for a hidden place as mysterious as Atlantis.
Gabriella does find her mother. However, I will not tell you her precise whereabouts or the reason for her presence there. Read the book. Actually the Mantra for each paragraph of this review should be READ THE BOOK.
Returning to the riverbank, Gabriella discovers the rowboat has drifted away. She is stranded and lost. She finds herself at Sharky's, a black juke joint, seafood and barbecue shack. Sharky is nobody's fool. No white girl has business being in his place in the day time much less at night. He parks Gabriella at a table in the kitchen, surrounds her with crab cakes, french fries, and other delicacies, telling her he'll call someone to pick her up.
Obviously, Gabriella and Hawkins' reputation have preceded them. It's Hawkins that shows up to take his charge back to base. The wail of a siren and flashing lights cause Hawkins to pull over. A North Carolina Sheriff catching a black man with a white girl in his car after dark is a prime reason to make a stop.
This time it's Gabriella who rescues Hawkins. Identifying herself as the Generals daughter, she tells the Sheriff Hawkins is her father's most trusted aide. The Sheriff eyeing the combat ribbons and medals on Hawkins' uniform jacket hanging at the window in the back seat let's them go about their way.
The encounter causes Gabriella to realize that her friendship with Hawkins endangers him, perhaps even more than Emmett's ill-fated whistle. As the summer wanes Gabriella continues to think of Emmett, thinking of his smiling face, his mischievous eyes.
The novel culminates in a spiritual meeting between Gabriella and Emmett. READ THE BOOK.
Gabriella wants to stay with EMMETT. READ THE BOOK.
Emmett tells Gabriella she must give to others on earth. READ THE BOOK.
Gabriella realizes Hawkins is the man Emmett might have grown up to be. I couldn't agree more.
The Long Journey of The Girl Who Swam To Atlantis
I first became acquainted with Elle Thornton as a member of goodreads group "On the Southern Literary Trail." I founded the group in February, 2012. Recently, in an effort to give new voices in Southern Literature an opportunity to find a venue for their work, I broadcast a message to all authors offering them the opportunity to offer copies of their work to group members in monthly giveaways. Elle Thornton was our second giveaway author.
Elle Thornton was awarded the Florida Writers Association for Young Adult Fiction in Prepublication Form in 2009. Elle obtained a literary agent. The book was shopped to six major publishing houses. Random House was a near deal. But it was not to be.
Although Elle and I have not personally met, nor talked on the phone, we have communicated a great deal about this book by what some call e-mail. I prefer to still call them letters. Letter writing is a dying art. Between tweets, texts, and shot e-mails, many are losing the ability to communicate via paper, be it electronic, or pulp. Elle is another of those who has not lost the art of letter writing.
Not only does she write a beautiful letter, she wrote a beautiful and lyrical book. I frequently become frustrated at publishing houses whose primary interest is only putting before the public what sells. Well, of course, I realize money is what makes the world go around.
The point remains that books never reach the public for fear the subject matter won't sell. I've given a great deal of thought to Elle Thornton's novel. I've given a great deal of thought to what sells in the field of Y/A literature today. These are the conclusions I have have reached. John Green is a Y/A God. It seems to me that Y/A has become a genre of what's happening now. Is it new. Is it relevant? Don't get me wrong. I like Green. I like Jay Asher. Each of their subject matters needs to be addressed. However, issues raised in novels such as Elle Thornton's do as well.
Anyone who thinks racism in this country is dead is a fool. In some ways it has become more subtle. In other ways, it is treated as matters deserving of legislation. Are not strict immigration laws a form of racism? Aren't we scared of any person with a middle eastern appearance? And how politely we hide our heads on questions of gender identity.
Keeping the spirit of Emmett Till alive today remains as important as it was during the heart of the Civil Rights Movement. Don't think there are those who still have no need for Civil Rights.
I admire authors who throw themselves into a work, play by all the rules, go through the hoops of Publishing Houses and face rejection. I admire those who have the courage to edit and re-edit and publish their own works.
I have read many a book published by a major publishing house I didn't even shelve. However, it sold, by God. The Folks who put out the Fifty Shades trilogy should be real proud of themselves.
The Folks who turned down a thoughtful Y/A novel must not think today's kids are as smart as they are. Of course, our schools are all aflutter over testing scores. It the question ain't on the test, it doesn't need to be taught, right?
This is a book teachers should read. Particularly school librarians should read it. This is a book that should be on every junior high school and high school library shelf.
One last thought. If Hawkins is the man Emmett Till might have grown up to be, perhaps Gabriella Winter grew up to be Elle Thornton.
A Hunger in the Heart: Kaye Park Hinckley's Novel of Love, Forgiveness and Redemption
I am grateful to Kaye Park Hinckley having been gracious enough t...moreA Hunger in the Heart: Kaye Park Hinckley's Novel of Love, Forgiveness and Redemption
I am grateful to Kaye Park Hinckley having been gracious enough to have provided me a copy of her novel for review. Kaye is a member of "On the Southern Literary Trail," a group I founded and moderate. She has also generously offered copies of her novel for our group's June Author Giveaway.
In the Summer of 1959 we packed up our 1958 Oldsmobile. It was my family's first air-conditioned car. It was a little square unit that sat under the dash that blew cool air through little round vents.
With my grandparents in front and my mother and I in the backseat, we headed to the land of dreams, Florida.
It was my first vacation. It was magic. I was seven.
I learned that there were such things as mermaids.
I picked my first orange from a tree in a grove. It was the best orange juice I ever tasted.
The scariest place I ever saw was an alligator farm. They were everywhere in concrete ponds. They would look at you and open their jaws wide, showing those rows of tremendous teeth. I hung on to the rails around the gator pits. I would have hated to have ended my vacation as a snack.
I suppose it was the beginning of a loss of innocence. It happens in degrees. In this case, the little box air-conditioner froze up on a regular basis. My grandfather would turn it off and let it defrost. The hot air would blast through the windows. Afternoon thunderstorms caused us to roll up the windows and we would sweat until the magic box emitted a weak stream of cool air for a short time.
I have long ceased to believe in mermaids. However, I still am fascinated by Alligator Farms. I do keep my car's air conditioning system fully maintained.
Kaye Park Hinckley brings that era of Florida alive vividly. It certainly brought childhood memories alive for me after many years, but A Hunger in the Heart is not a simple story of a Florida that was less metropolitan and more Southern.
As you read this beautifully written novel you may well find yourself finding similarities with the writing of Flannery O'Connor. Kay Hinckley does not wear her theology on her sleeve anymore than O'Connor did. However, Ms. Hinckley is a member of the Catholic Church. Just as you will find moments of grace, salvation, and redemption in O'Connor, so will you find them in this novel.
The novel follows three generations of the Bridgeman family. Coleman Putnam Bridgeman, the patriarch, is the Boss of Gator Town. No, Gator Town is not Gainesville, Florida, but a small Florida town in which some folks might be said to recognize themselves. The Boss has developed Gator Town with tourist attractions, such as an alligator farm. He is bringing tourism to the small town.
His son, known as Putt, served in World War II. He was a hero, saving one of his Sergeants lives. In the process, he suffered a head wound. Though it is the 1950s, for Putt, the war is still very real. Some men return from war forever changed.
Coleman, III, loves his father and his grandfather. However, when he plays war with his father, he doesn't understand that for his father, the maps he draws in the sand are actual tactical battle maps recreating situations he encountered in the Pacific.
The Boss, a widower, has moved Putt, Coleman, and Putt's wife, Sarah Neal out at the old cabin he once shared with his beloved wife Emma. It is Sarah's job to see that Putt stays out of trouble, takes his medication, and keeps him out of town.
Sarah's is a hard plight. Her faith is not enough to cope with Putt's condition. She bolsters her faith with booze. As the Boss bluntly tells her she has crawled into the bottle and she will drown there.
But on a bad day, Putt sneaks away from home. Down at the Piggly Wiggly, surrounded by customers, Putt believes he is back in the war. He believes he's on fire. He strips naked. The Boss must wrap him up and carry him home.
Something terrible happens with this weapon:
Putt's Service Side-arm
(view spoiler)[Upon learning that he is to be committed to a state mental institution in exchange for false charges of sexual assault being dropped, Putt becomes involved in a struggle over his weapon with Sarah Neal. Whether he kills himself, or Sarah Neal accidentally shoots him in an effort to take the gun away from him is left to the interpretation of the reader. A central question is whether young Coleman will ever forgive Sarah Neal for his Father's death. He believes she killed him. (hide spoiler)]
Ironically, Putt saved a native of Gator Town, a young black man named Clayton, an orphan raised by Aunt Aggie, known for raising homeless black children. Sarah Neal angrily blames Putt's condition on the Army for making him responsible for saving a no-account such as Clayton.
The truth is Clayton is a no account, a prisoner, in the state penitentiary for a theft. The crime for which he has been convicted is minor to what Clayton has actually committed. In Clayton, evil is a palpable force. For Clayton, Jesus is an entity with whom he can bargain. Escaping from prison, he carries with him, a Madonna he had stolen from Putt, the man who saved his life.
"'Remember how you saved me once? Okay, okay. So I fell out of your boat and got sent up the river again. You don't want me to spend another ten years in that prison do you?' Then he remembered the statue and felt for it in his pocket. See here? I got your mama. I'm gonna take care of her too, if you just come on, Jesus' and save me.'"
Ms. Hinckley addresses the issue of whether a life is so without value it is not worth saving. The resounding answer is no. Every life has value because each person has the possibility to change. It's a matter of choice.
Without any doubt, the moral center of "A Hunger in the Heart" is "Fig," a black man taken into the Boss's home as a child from Aunt Aggie's. For Fig there is no black and white. He is in a sense color blind, not only to race, but to all human frailty. He is the Boss's right hand man. He is the purveyor of forgiveness, the moral compass for young Coleman, and the ultimate key to redemption.
Fig serves as the perfect foil to Clayton, or "Sarge." They are respective representatives of good and evil.
In an especially effective structural device, Ms. Hinckley provides a five year skip in the action aging young Coleman five years. We watch Coleman developing into a young man. He is estranged from his mother because of her alcoholism and her attraction to her therapist who is attempting to cure her alcoholism. What is especially effective is his recognition of Clayton as the man whose life his father saved and his recognition of him as a conman and thief. The question is, will Coleman seek revenge.
Kaye Hinckley writes with a lyrical beauty, yet can shake the reader with a sudden jarring edginess. Her characters are memorable. They are human. Each has frailties and faults. Each needs the strength, love and forgiveness of others. Don't we all?
Winston Groom wrote, "Kaye Park Hinckley's novel, A Hunger in the Heart, is a story of hope, forgiveness, and redemption. It's a great read in the tradition of southern fiction."
Mark Childress said, "Kaye Park Hinckley is a writer with a sensitive ear and a keenly developed sympathy for her characters. Her debut novel, A Hunger in the Heart, marks the beginning of a promising career in the world of fiction.
Mike is a born storyteller. He generously sent me a signed copy of his novel, The Home Place. To cut to the chase, it's a Jim Dandy read that brings a by-gone era to life. Road houses, bootleggers, moonshiners, a crooked Assistant District Attorney (named Sullivan--EGAD!), and a cut throat killer named Buel Hollins that will do away with anyone who gets in the way of his illegal liquor business, make this a page turner.
Toss in a bit "Thunder Road," the old Broderick Crawford series "Highway Patrol," and a writing style reminiscent of Run with the Horsemen by Ferrol Sams and you have a taste of what Addington has produced.
Thunder Road Poster
Broderick Crawford as State Trooper
Caught in the net of ruthless bootleggers is the Downey family who live on "The Home Place." Matt Downey is an upright citizen of the county, known for his word, reputation, and his willingness to scrape out a living tending a three hundred acre farm. But his farm hands are his children, Franklin, the oldest; Glenn; daugther June, with a mischievous streak, and youngest, Russ. Matt is a stern father, working his kids from can to can't. His sternness is tempered by the gentleness of his wife Cora who attempts to soften the harshness of Matt's treatment of his children. But Matt is not a man inclined to budge on his beliefs.
But Matt's rigid and inflexible, leading to each of his children leaving the home place. Franklin is the first to leave, enlisting in the Marines immediately following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Glenn is the next, working transporting cars from Detroit for Mr. Flynt for resale in Gainesville, Georgia. When Flynt treats Glynn to a steak dinner at Lester's roadhouse, Glynn's offered a job at Lester's. Youngest brother Russ comes to live with Glenn in a trailer behind Lester's club.
June hooks up with furniture store owner Conway Farrell. They live big. They live well.
It's inevitable that Glenn is pulled into Buell Hollins web of running Shine when he is nabbed by Trooper Edwards. Edwards believes that the whiskey Glenn is hauling belongs to Lester. However upon searching Lester's club, there's not a drop on the scene. Glenn is arrested and facing a long stretch in the state pen. Trooper Edwards has also taken Brother Russ into jail as well, unwilling to leave Russ unattended at Lester's.
Buell arranges for Conway to pay a bribe to ADA Sullivan to make Glenn's case go away. However, it's Matt's appearance before Judge Mickle promising to take the boys home to the farm that causes the Judge to take Glenn's guilty plea and immediately grant him three years of probation. Glenn goes straight, marries, and a second generation of Downeys begins to come along.
Russ joins the army, becomes a paratrooper and only returns home after tearing up a knee on a jump. He's no longer fit for army duty. He, too, settles down, marries, and has a long and happy life ahead of him. That is until Buel Hollins evades a roadblock a dumps a load of bonded whiskey in Russ's garage.
It is no spoiler to say that people die in The Home Place. On the book's cover is a page of the Atlanta Daily Times. The headline is: "Body Found in Lake: Companion Sought."
The only question is who and how will the Downey family be affected. To find out, oh reader, well, you'll have to read the book. It is safe to say that Addington builds inevitably to a crescendo of brutal violence leaving the reader crying for justice.
This is a book that deserves a wider reading audience. Mike Addington self published The Home Place. In 2007, Atlanta's NPR Station program "Between the Lines" chose the novel as one of its suggested novels of the year. It was favorably reviewed in "Southern Distinction Magazine." And, yes, this story is based on actual events. Interested in the story of the bodies in the lake? Find it here: http://www.lakelanier.info/content/vi...
4 for plot, 4 for setting, 4 for dialogue, 3.5 for characterization and description Highly recommended. (less)
Blindsighted: Karin Slaughter's first Sara Linton novel
And the publishers announce:
First there was Patricia Cornwell!
THEN there was Kathy Reichs!
NOW...moreBlindsighted: Karin Slaughter's first Sara Linton novel
And the publishers announce:
First there was Patricia Cornwell!
THEN there was Kathy Reichs!
NOW GET READY FOR KARIN SLAUGHTER!
Welcome to Grant County, Georgia. Don't look for it on a Georgia map. It isn't there. And in this fictional County, there's a fictional town. It's a small town called Heartsdale, somewhere around Madison, but before you hit Augusta.
Eddie Linton and Daughters is a plumbing company in town. But it should be Linton and Daughter. Tessa works with her father. Sara grew up and went to medical school and became a pediatrician.
After medical school Sara returns home and takes over the town medical clinic. The nearest hospital is in Augusta. She married Jeff Tolliver, the County Sheriff, but divorced him after he cheated on her with the town sign painter.
Life's complicated when your Ex is the Sheriff and you're not only the town's pediatrician, but also the County Coroner. You bump into your Ex a lot more than you might like. Actually, Jeff wouldn't mind patching things up. After all, he only had that affair because he wanted Sara to need him as much as he needed her. Uh-huh. What? Could this be a new genre? "Crimance?"
Sara definitely doesn't want Jeff back in her life. She's dated the town pharmacist, Jeb, off and on. It hasn't been anything serious. Sara really doesn't have the time.
Things turn nasty when Sara has lunch with her sister Tessa down at Pete's Diner. She steps into the bathroom to wash her hands and finds herself in the middle of a crime scene. Sybil Adams is sitting on the john. Someone has carved a cross into her. Sybil dies in convulsions in Sara's arms as she bleeds out on the bathroom floor.
From whence does the title come? Why, from Belladonna from the Italian meaning "beautiful woman." Traditionally the plant was used to cause dilation of the pupils to make a woman appear more seductive. Use too much of the stuff, you become so sensitive to light you can see nothing, and it's a powerful hallucinogenic, causing paralysis, loss of memory, and convulsions.
Sybil was blind. Hmmm...in Roman mythology Sybil was a "Seeress." Well, maybe it was just a coincidental choice and not an attempt at irony. She was a professor at the small college. She was also a lesbian. Was it a hate crime? More conflict rises because her sister Lena is one of Sheriff Tolliver's Detectives. She's out to find her own justice for her sister's death.
Sara's autopsy reveals that Sybil was also raped and sodomized. A second victim is found draped across Sarah's car. She had been crucified in x form, and repeatedly raped and sodomized. She was also stabbed. Sara prevents her death by cracking her chest and massaging her heart. When this young woman begins to tell of her experience, Jeff realizes he's got an escalating serial rapist/killer on his hands.
Slaughter relentlessly turns up the pace when Jeff's detective Lena, Sibyl's sister is the next woman to disappear. Slaughter has the ability to keep you flipping the pages to see what happens next.
Could Sara be the next victim, Jeff worries. Can he find his missing detective?
BUT: I wish I could have liked this book more. The herrings herein are very, very, red. There's the homophobic doper. And a ridiculous stab at an incident of token racism, when some townsmen assume that an aged black man musta dun it. OH, PLEASE! C'MON!
I anticipated the identity of the perp long before the end. While on the surface of things, Sara appears proficient in her forensic skills, she is a pediatrician, not a pathologist. If Sara ever makes it to court, it wouldn't be pretty. Oh. Dang. Spoiler alert: If the perp never survives, you don't have to worry about witness qualification.
And, by the way, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has a death investigation division with either four to five regional laboratories staffed with pathologists. Georgia uses a Medical Examiner System. The Coroner calls for an autopsy, but bodies are transported to the labs for the autopsies. Now, I do understand that six Georgia counties are not covered by GBI, so considering Grant County is fictional anyway, well, heck this is a work of fiction. Interestingly, Slaughter also refers to Sara as a medical examiner in one paragraph in which she also calls her a coroner.
I'm jaded. Twenty-eight years in a District Attorney's Office will do that to you. If you think I'm too hard in my assessment of Karin Slaughter, don't get me started on John Grisham. D.A. does NOT stand for dumb ass, Mr. Grisham.
One thing I must acknowledge. Karin Slaughter has the dynamics of rape and men who rape down with great accuracy. For the dialogue, pacing, and that knowledge, I give this 3.5 our of five stars.
Having said all that, of course I already have the second book in the series. I admit I like it when the good guys win.
The Fault in Our Stars: John Green's novel of living, loving and dying
“The marks humans leave are too often scars.”
This review comes with no bells, w...moreThe Fault in Our Stars: John Green's novel of living, loving and dying
“The marks humans leave are too often scars.”
This review comes with no bells, whistles, or photographs. They are not needed.
We all face the inevitability of mortality. It is only a question of when and how we will meet it.
When the goodreads group Literary Exploration selected The Fault in Our Stars by John Greenfor our February, 2013, read, I approached it with considerable reluctance. This February marked the first anniversary of my Mother's death. Grief is a long process. I would like to say I have overcome this grieving, but I have not.
Hazel Grace Lancaster was diagnosed with Stage IV Thyroid cancer at the age of thirteen. She had her first period just a short time before her diagnosis. How great is that? Become a woman and die, she thinks.
The novel opens with Hazel having reached the age of sixteen. Cancer moves, you know. Now tumors grow in her lungs. It is difficult for her to breath. She trails a portable oxygen tank behind her when she outside her home. When at home, during the day, she is tethered to a constantly humming oxygen concentrator. At night she sleeps with the aid of a Bi-pap machine, a mask covering her entire face. She falls asleep to the sound of the efficient machine's dragon noises.
Hazel attends a support group for cancer survivors. Survivors isn't quite the right word. The group's membership ebbs and flows as they become memorialized by those who still live. Hazel and the others who can always take the stairs to reach the room where their sessions are held. Taking the elevator is an indication that life's candle is near flickering out. This particular day the kid with Leukemia takes the elevator.
Hazel coats herself in a shell of cynicism, quite realistic cynicism.
“There will come a time when all of us are dead. All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you. Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten and all of this will have been for naught. Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we will not survive forever. There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.”
At this session, there is a new member.
“There were five others before they got to him. He smiled a little when his turn came. His voice was low, smoky, and dead sexy. “My name is Augustus Waters,” he said. “I’m seventeen. I had a little touch of osteosarcoma a year and a half ago, but I’m just here today at Isaac’s request.”
“And how are you feeling?” asked Patrick.
“Oh, I’m grand.” Augustus Waters smiled with a corner of his mouth. “I’m on a roller coaster that only goes up, my friend.”
Isaac has lost one eye to cancer. The following day, his remaining eye will be removed. He will be blind.
Hazel is a bit unnerved that Augustus stares at her throughout the session. It would be awkward if he just weren't so hot. "Well," she thinks.
How can you know you are dying and allow room for love? In a short time Gus tells Hazel he loves her. She responds that the dying are hand grenades and when she explodes she would rather diminish any collateral damage. But Gus is not deterred.
“I'm in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we're all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we'll ever have, and I am in love with you.”
Green handles the growing relationship between Hazel and Gus with sensitivity, grace, and gentleness. He affirms the preciousness of life even in the face of dying.
This novel is John Green's equivalent of Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn without the political rhetoric for the Young Adolescent audience. However, it is a book that has value for readers of all ages. It certainly did for me.
Just as Hazel worries about the effect of her death on Augustus, she worries about the loss her parents will endure.
"Much of my life had been devoted to trying not to cry in front of people who loved me... You clench your teeth. You look up. You tell yourself that if they see you cry, it will hurt them, and you will be nothing but a Sadness in their lives, and you must not become a mere sadness, so you will not cry, and you say all of this to yourself while looking up at the ceiling, and then you swallow even though your throat does not want to close and you look at the person who loves you and smile."
During her illness Hazel has become a voracious reader. One book, more than any other has captured her imagination, An Imperial Affliction about a young girl who dies. The narrative ends in mid-sentence. Hazel thinks,
“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”
"The Fault in Our Stars" belongs among books as Hazel described. John Green's work is a gift for young and old.
I have pushed portable oxygen tanks. I have carefully monitored an oxygen concentrator. I can tell you exactly how a Bi-pap works. I remember my mother looking at the wild blaze of leaves her last autumn, saying, "I'll never see this again." I remember her smiles through clenched teeth, struggling to breathe, as her need for oxygen increased more and more.
Yes, each of us will ultimately leave scars. It is inevitable. Live well. Love well. Accept each day's gift of life. Seize the day. Remember.
Winner of the Philip K. Dick Award for Best Novel, 2003
Morgan is a wicked blend of Philip K. Dick and William Gibson. There is even a touch of Gene Roddenberry's various Star Trek series. But the beneficent Federation is replaced by a universe governed by the United Nations, a tough bunch, whose prime directive is to do what it takes to get what you want or think you need.
Our protagonist/anti-hero--your choice, pushed to the forefront of the story is Takeshi Kovacs, raised off-world on Harlan's World, a colonized by the Japanese and East Europeans. Introduced to violence at a young age through gang participation, Kovacs is a natural for military service. And he is natural to become a U.N. Envoy, the best, and the most brutal in carrying out the U.N. "Protectorate's" directives.
Set five hundred ,and counting, years in the future, science has mastered the art of defying the principle of you only go around this life once. No. You can grab all the gusto you'd like, time after time, through the development of Digital Human Forms called sleeves. Even the mind can be digitized and backed up in case something untoward occurs to your current self.
The wealthier you are, the more of your selves you can keep in storage. Theoretically if you've got the money and the power, you could live forever. Those that choose to do so are called "Meths" by the younger and poorer citizens of Earth and the other off-world colonies.
Now your first thought might be, why this is no dystopia. This is utopia!
But there are a few problems with that. Imagine being married to the same person for three hundred years, and having all the money it takes to support the theory that variety is the spice of life. The preceding statement does not reflect the views or opinions of the reviewer. My wife reads these things. Got it?
Enter Laurens Bancroft and his lovely wife Miriam. To say that they have become a bit jaded is more than a bit of understatement. Bancroft enjoys slumming in the myriad sex clubs available, from the lowest to the most exclusive. Miriam enjoys her own tête-à-têtes, but prefers much more tasteful surroundings.
Bancroft is murdered, so he says, upon being re-sleeved in one of his copies. The Bay City Police Department rules it a suicide. Members of the department have little or no sympathy for Meths. They have better things to worry about.
Consider this. Morgan writes:
“You live that long, things start happening to you. You get too impressed with yourself. Ends up, you think you’re God. Suddenly the little people, thirty, maybe forty years old, well, they don’t really matter anymore. You’ve seen whole societies rise and fall, and you start to feel you’re standing outside it all, and none of it really matters to you. And maybe you’ll start snuffing those little people, just like picking daisies, if they get under your feet.”
So it is that Bancroft hires Kovacs to investigate his murder. As he tells Kovacs, "If I had wanted to commit suicide I wouldn't be standing here talking to you." Maybe so. Maybe no.
Not only do denizens of Morgan's world routinely resort to the F-Bomb in conversation, they enjoy engaging in the actual activity. Morgan includes enough gratuitous sex scenes to appeal to most prurient interests. Of course Miriam Bancroft seduces Kovacs not only through her perfect body but by the secretion of a sexually enhancing chemical from every pore of her body. Erectile dysfunction is NOT a problem in Morgan's world. Nor do Miriam and Kovacs end up in separate bath tubs. I've never understood that Cialis commercial anyway. Have you?
Of course, Miriam would like to see Kovacs close the case, making her a prime suspect. But Morgan supplies us with a host of other likely suspects, whom I will not reveal for fear of disclosing too much of the plot.
Let's just say this re-sleeving business is a huge money maker, along with virtual and actual prostitution a lucrative concern as well. There is little justice for those without money or power.
Morgan intriguingly plots his novel around the question of when does science cross the line of morality and religion. Not every citizen wants to be re-sleeved, particularly those of the Catholic faith who see multiple lives as keeping them from the opportunity of ever getting to Heaven.
At the heart of this twining and twisting plot is the question of Resolution No. 653, to be decided by the U.N. Protectorate. Can one opt out of being kept digitally stored and re-sleeved?
Catholics have taken to having themselves tattooed with the equivalent of a do not resuscitate code. That proposition makes them likely targets for murder, especially when it comes to snuffing an unwilling prostitute.
Winner of the 2003 Philip K. Dick Award for Best Novel, Altered Carbon is an addictive page turner which should engage the lover of not only hard-boiled detective novels, but cyberpunk as well. If it's not on your to read shelf, add it.
Now, just one thing about this Methuselah business...it would be nice to read forever.
Shadow Country: Peter Matthiessen's New Rendering of the Watson Legend
Edgar Artemas Watson (1855-1910)
For seventeen days I was held enthralled by Sha...moreShadow Country: Peter Matthiessen's New Rendering of the Watson Legend
Edgar Artemas Watson (1855-1910)
For seventeen days I was held enthralled by Shadow Country. Once I began it, I was unable to stop. Nothing could have pulled me away from it.
"A New Rendering of the Watson Legend" happens to be the subtitle of Peter Matthiessen's 2008 National Book Award winning novel. The operative word in that subtitle is Legend.
A legend is a story founded in truth, indigenous to the people residing in the region where the story originated. Rooted in truth, the question becomes where does the truth stop and the legend begin?
Peter Matthiessen devoted approximately thirty years of his life absorbed, or as he says in his introduction to "Shadow Country," he has learned a lot about obsession having spent so much time in the mind of E. J. Watson. For Matthiessen had previously written of Edgar Watson in a trilogy of novels: Killing Mister Watson (1990); Lost Man's River (1997); and, Bone by Bone (1999).
Watson was born in 1855 in Clouds Creek, South Carolina, as Edgar Artemas Watson. In later life he changed his name to Edward J. Watson. The J stood for Jack.
Matthiessen constructed his novel in daring fashion. In Book One, Edgar Watson is shot down by his neighbors on Chokoluskee Island, Florida, on October 24, 1910, suspected of a growing number of murders over a period of time. The question is obvious. How did those who knew him come to these conclusions, for, as we begin this increasingly complex web, there is no evidence, but only suspicion.
Matthiesen's writing is brilliant not only in its structure, but the dialogue of the natives of Chokoluskee, Florida. The language is reminiscent of a blend of the inhabitants of the novels of Erskine Caldwell and William Faulkner. It is as easy to believe you are listening to conversations heard along a walk down Tobacco Road or around Frenchman's Bend.
Not only is Matthiesen perfect in character, dialog, and plot, he is a master of setting. For when you enter "Shadow Country," Matthiessen has effectively taken you to a lost world, relatively unblemished by man. And he will develop the theme of man's callous domination over nature in revealing plans to develop the gulf coast of the Florida Peninsula as Flagler and others permanently changed the character of the State's Atlantic coast.
Here are vast rookeries of white plumed egrets, with nights shattered by the scream of Florida black panthers. Seemingly sodden logs transform into huge alligators and crocodiles. In the vast mangrove tangles, cotton mouths, coral snakes and Florida Diamondbacks wait for the unwary traveler. And it is man's nature to believe that he has the right to exterminate any species for profit.
Book One is filled with fifty one monologues of fourteen separate narrators. They relate their memories of Watson and what they "know" of him. It becomes readily apparent that knowledge is an illusive concept.
Among the many crimes laid at Watson's feet is the murder of Outlaw Queen Belle Starr, while he was a fugitive in the Indian Territories. Watson did not deny the story, enhancing his reputation as a man not to be trifled with.
Halfway up the empty Chatham River a circumspect man named Watson had built a respectable two-story frame house high on an old sand-and-shell Indian mound that commands a great sweep of river east and west. There was nothing to be seen but the fish jumping and the birds flying. It had a porch and high bare rooms, a rainwater cistern, a plank dock for his boats. He set out a cane patch, horse bananas, and the usual vegetables. He planted palm trees along the river, and two royal poinciana trees flamed against the gray house and dazzling blue sky….
Edgar Watson's home on Chatham Bend
Nobody seems to know when Watson first came to Chatham River. Nobody over there even now seems to want to say much about him. But of all the men who lived silently along those coasts with the air of strange deeds behind them, Watson’s is the figure about which multiplying legends seem most to cluster.
He was a Scotsman with red hair and fair skin and mild blue eyes. He was quiet spoken and pleasant to people. But people noticed one thing. When he stopped to talk on a Fort Myers street, he never turned his back on anybody.
It was said freely that he had killed people before he came to Florida, that he killed Belle Starr and two people in northwest Florida. That was nobody’s business here, from Fort Myers to Shark River. From time to time he went up to Fort Myers or Marco in his boat and took down to work at that lonely place of his on Chatham River people variously described as a boy, a rawboned woman, two white men, a Negro, a Russian, a Negro woman, an old woman. No one seems to know how many. No one seemed to notice for a while that none of these people came back.
He was, of course, a plume hunter and alligator skinner, and he shared many feuds with the quick-shooting men of the wilderness….
In 1910 a man and his son sailing up the Chatham River saw something queer floating by the bank. It was the body of an old woman, gutted, but not gutted enough to sink. The man said, “Let’s get along to Watson’s and tell him about it.”
The son said, “Let’s get back to Chokoloskee and talk to Old Man McKinney.” At Chokoloskee they found several men talking to a Negro in McKinney’s store. The story the Negro told was that he’d worked for Watson a long time and seen him shoot a couple of men. The Negro said he’d buried a lot of people on his place, or knocked them overboard when they asked him for their money.
Watson was away, the Negro said. His overseer, named Cox, killed another man and the old woman and forced the Negro to help him cut them open and throw them in the river. He said he would kill him last, but when the Negro got down on his knees and begged to be spared Cox said he would if he’d promise to go down to Key West and get out of the country. The Negro came up to Chokoloskee instead and told everything.
A posse went down to Watson’s place and found plenty of bones and skulls. The overseer got away and has never been seen there since.
The next day Watson came back in his boat from Marco and stopped at McKinney’s store in Chokoloskee. He came walking along the plank, quiet and pleasant, carrying his gun. And here were all the men of Chokoloskee standing quietly around with their guns.
Mr. McKinney walked up to Watson slowly and said, “Watson, give me your gun.”
Watson said, “I give my gun to no man,” and fired point-blank at McKinney, wounding him slightly. As if it was the same shot, every man standing there in that posse fired. Watson fell dead. Every man claimed he killed him, and nobody ever knew because there were so many bullets in him.
Book II provides a distinctly different perspective in the narration of Lucius Watson, the most loyal of Watson's children, legitimate or illegitimate. Lucius is also the most gentle of Watson's children. Following his father's death, Lucius sets out to vindicate his father's name and bring those to justice who murdered him, compiling a list of the assassins.
Lucius, having been made a Marine sniper in World War One, loses his taste for revenge. However, the news that Lucius has prepared a death list is rampant in his father's former community. Lucius risks his father's fate because of that list. However, he refuses to abandon his mission to find the truth behind the rumors that swirled around his father.
In the end Lucius learns a truth more horrible than that believed by the residents of Chokoluskee from his half brother Robert, whom his father referred to only as "Son Borne," failing to acknowledge him by name. Lucius' mission had been to write a biography of his father. On learning the truth, he burns it.
Book III confirms Matthiessen's unconventional structure. The narrator is Edgar Watson. The voice is surprisingly formal and articulate. Watson is a man politically astute, and educated in the classics. However, this is no self serving refutation of the many accusations made against him. Watson's long monologue is a confession of what he has done and what he hasn't. He is no saint, far from it.
Interestingly, Watson recalls the Iliad before his final trip to Chokoluskee:
"'All of us must die. Why make a fuss about it?' Achilles to Hector. You die in your own arms, as the old people say."
Those old people, the ancient Greeks, would have said that wrapped around Watson's arms was the fabric of hubris.
My thanks to members of "On the Southern Literary Trail" who voted this as one of our group reads for January, 2013.
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: Ernest Gaines' Novel of Living with One's Past
Ernest Gaines Walks Near his Birthplace
"In my Father’s house there are many dwel...moreIn My Father's House: Ernest Gaines' Novel of Living with One's Past
Ernest Gaines Walks Near his Birthplace
"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
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."
"Im 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. Waht I did this morning it seems like it's wrong to 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.
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
...moreNo 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. (less)
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 'cause...moreTheir 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
Derek...moreHe 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. (less)
Grit Lit: A Rough South Reader, Tom Franklin's and Brian Carpenter's Slide into the Dark Side of Southern Life
Published by The University of South Ca...moreGrit Lit: A Rough South Reader, Tom Franklin's and Brian Carpenter's Slide into the Dark Side of Southern Life
Published by The University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, South Carolina, 2012
If you've wondered what Grit Lit is, Tom Franklinand Brian Carpenterhave provided the answer with an outstanding anthology of short stories and excerpts from memoirs from some of the best known voices in contemporary Southern literature. The subtitle hints that the material contained between the cover of this book does not consist of moonlight and magnolias. There is nary a hoop skirt in sight. While there are many men contained in these pages that frankly don't give a damn, none of them is named Rhett Butler. Nor would an Ashley Wilkes have a snowball's chance in Hell of surviving a single work contained.
Franklin begins our journey with a brief explanation of grit lit. It's not that cereal that Southerners eat, though that's part of it. It's not the True Grit that Rooster Cogburn exhibited in taking on Ned Pepper and his gang, though that's part of it. Neither is it exclusively the grit that ends up grating against your feet within your steel toed work boots, though that is a large part of it.
"National Public Radio librarian Nancy Pearl says Grit Lit is ' filled with angry, deranged, and generally desperate characters who are fueled by alcohol and sex.' Yes, they drink. They smoke--weed and pills and sometimes meth. They're usually white, usually redneck, Snopesian, broke, divorced, violent--they're not good country people. Writer Tony Earley divides southern literature intto two groups: those on the right side of the tracks, who sip mint juleps in Miss Welty's yard, sweating politely under the magnolias in seersucker suits; and those on the wrong side of the tracks, whose characters make shine, shoot or stab one another on occasion, and cruise around in their pickups tossing beer bottles along the side of the rod while looking for armadillos to flatten.
Brian Carpenter's brilliant introduction takes us through the "history" of Grit Lit and the editorial process, the difficulty he and Franklin had in finding the most pertinent examples that this volume proves they did their work and did it well. Carpenter tells us that clearly the Rough South was written about by William Faulkner and Erskine Caldwell. However, he and Franklin chose to present a more contemporary collection of voices in a rough choir that sing different verses of the same hymns.
The only obvious missing member of the choir is Cormac McCarthy, who has a policy of not allowing his works to be excerpted in anthologies. Fair enough, if that's the way Mr. McCarthy wants to play. I've read him. But I discovered tales from old friends and gems from undiscovered voices within the pages of this book.
A note on gender in Grit Lit. It is largely a fraternity. The sisterhood is rather small. The notable exceptions being Dorothy Allison and Lee Smith. Having seen the gleam in her eye at readings, I can see it when she said a Southern woman can cook you a cake and kill you, too.
You won't find a Tom Franklin story here. I suppose you don't include your own work when you're an editor, but it's a shame Carpenter didn't slip just one short one in when Franklin wasn't looking.
So, here's a brief rundown of who you'll find within these pages.
Larry Brown, excerpt, On Fire. Brown was one of the most promising voices in contemporary Southern Literature, fiction or non-fiction. His voice was stilled by a heart attack in 2004.
Tim McLaurin, excerpt, from his memoir, Keeper of the Moon: A Southern Boyhood. McLaurin lost his battle with cancer in 2002. This excerpt focuses on a reluctant dogfighter, who would rather not put his dog in the pit. It is memorable. No. It is unforgettable.
However, it was not until 1974 when Gaine's novel was filmed as a television movie that sales mushroomed with the issue of the mass-market Bantam Paperback tie-in edition. The movie aired on CBS. 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. That little paperback was one of the first paperback editions. 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.