A child may ask, 'What is the world's story about?' And a grown man or woman may wonder, 'What way will the world go? How does it end and, while we're at it, what's the story about?'
I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one, that has frightened and inspired us, so that we live in a Pearl White serial of continuing thought and wonder. Humans are caught in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too -- in a net of good and evil. I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence. Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last, and this despite changes we might impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners. There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well -- or ill?
John Steinbeck, Chapter 34, East of Eden, 1952
I originally posted an abbreviated review of this novel on January 14, 2014. Fourteen of my friends liked it. And I appreciate that. However, I got to thinking about it, this novel and the man who wrote it. I initially rated One Foot in Eden Three Stars. Why? Because I had read Rash's novel Serena before this one. Bottom line, I penalized Mr. Rash because he had become a better writer since he had written this book. Then that quote from Steinbeck kind of rolled over me, as it has many times. Mr. Rash, you did well. Those three stars are now four. And my good friend, Diane, is sighing, thinking, "This is going to be a long one." Well, not too long.
When I was a child I asked that question, "What is the world's story about?" We all do. Haven't you? Through the years I have lived I have come to believe Steinbeck was right. "A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well -- or ill?" That's hard truth.
It comes down to making a lot of choices, right or wrong, well or ill. Then there are those times when you just don't have a choice. Nothing's in your control. Like who you are, what you look like, where you were born. Your mother and your father made you, put you here. Somebody raises you. Maybe your mother and your father, maybe not. You do what you do with what you've got, where you are.
I think Rash read East of Eden. More than once. Because this is a novel about people caught in a web of good and evil. It's about the choices they make, the things that haunt them, and the questions a child grows to ask.
It is August, 1952. Oconee County, South Carolina. Oconee comes from the Cherokee word "Ae-quo-nee" meaning "land beside the water." Soon the land around Jocassee will be under water, flooded by South Carolina Power to generate hydroelectric energy. Every mother's son and daughter will be driven off the land their families have held since the 1700s. Even their dead will be dug up and moved above the flood plane. It will become a place lost forever. The people who live there have no choice.
Botanist Andre Michaux discovers the very rare Oconee Bell Flowers in 1788 at Jocassee at the head of the Keowee River. Today, it's at the head of Jocassee Gorge at Devil's Inn State Park, SC.
Holland Winchester will not live to see his home flooded. He will be murdered. Or, is it murder? Is it a maelstrom of uncontrollable emotions that explode into violence leaving a child to be born who will someday grow to ask "Where is my father?"
Or, is it sometimes better to let the dead bury the dead? Jocassee after the waters rose.
Is there the possibility of forgiveness? Ron Rash will have you thinking about it. For a long time.
Here's what I had previously said. I don't always get it right the first time.
January 14, 2015
Review to Follow: Very, very briefly: I actually picked up my reading at page fifty of One Foot in Eden a few minutes after midnight this morning. The pages whipped by in a swirl of carefully constructed multiple narrators. This is the first novel by Ron Rash. In a rare situation for me, I had read later works by Rash. Generally, I read an author from their initial novel and watch their writing develop. Had I begun my reading of Rash's novels with this intriguing read, I would have been incredibly impressed. However, having read Serena, a novel produced by Rash at the peak of his power as a writer with even more promise to come with yet a forthcoming novel, One Foot in Eden emerges as a bit rough around the edges. Rash fills out this compelling read with the elements of a crime novel, what has come to be known as Grit Lit, and the eerie nature of supernatural presence, a classic Southern Gothic ingredient. As Salieri blithely dismissed Mozart's music being comprised of "too many notes," Rash may have combined too many ingredients in a compelling read that is uneven in spots, trying to fit into all possible subgenres of contemporary Southern fiction. That three stars surprises me. To be fair, let's kick it up a notch to 3.5.
A more detailed review should follow. For Rash admirers, this is a must read. The sense of place is incredibly done. Rash knows the hills of South Carolina, its people, and strikes to the heart of the destruction of community and environment by the creation of damned reservoirs, covering once living residences of whole communities and leaving areas filled with tradition and heritage lost forever. This is one that lingers in the mind. And will leave the reader haunted on multiple levels.
January 16, 2015
There, now. I'm sorry, Mr. Rash. Some of those hastily scripted notes ring a little hollow to me now. Thank you Mr. Steinbeck....more
Blanche on the Lam, Barbary Neely, First Ed., St. Martin's Press, New York, New York, 1992
Barbara Neely, Social Activist, and Author, born 1941, Lebanon, Pennsylvania
Still hoping to find an employer willing to pay for a full service domestic instead of the bunch of so-called genteel Southern white women for whom she currently did day work. Most of them seemed to think she ought to be delighted to swab their toilets and trash cans for a pittance."
Blanche White, a savvy and independent black woman finds herself in Farleigh, North Carolina, living with her mother and the two children she had promised her sister, Valerie, dying of breast cancer, she would raise and see to their well being. It's not an easy life.
This is not the life Blanche had planned for herself. She never intended on marrying. Children weren't in the picture. A practical woman, she knew her services as a full time domestic were valuable. Up north, in New York, she had earned a good living. But that was before her sister died and she made a promise she was committed to keep.
About Farleigh, North Carolina. I didn't find it on the North Carolina map. Perhaps Ms. Neely changed the location to protect the guilty. However, other North Carolina locations are bantered about without concern. For Neely's purposes, the name suffices, establishing Blanche the domestic, a resident of the South, whose importance is of little note to the white citizens of the community, authoritarian, social or otherwise.
Farleigh was still a country town, for all its pretensions. The folks who lived here and had money, even the really wealthy ones, thought they were still living slavery days, when a black woman was greateful for the chance to work indoors. Even at the going rate in Farleigh she'd found no black people in town who could afford her--not that working for black people ensured good treatment, sad to say.
Things really turn sour for Blanche when she's arrested on warrants for bad checks. Checks she wrote for groceries to support her niece and nephew, counting on her employers making good on her payday. However her employers decided to take a powder, uhm, vacation, to Topsail Beach, or some other likely vacation spot.
Blanche ends up before a Judge who got up on the wrong side of the bed, mistakenly reads her record, and becomes indignant to find her before the Court a fourth time. Thirty days in jail, plus restitution. It crosses one's mind how anyone makes restitution while incarcerated.
Blanche panics. Away from her children, yes, she's come to look on them as her own, for thirty days? The County's liable to come calling and her children will be in the State Foster Care system. At the first opportunity when a brouhaha breaks out in the courtroom, Blanche goes on the lam.
That's when things get interesting. Blanche was scheduled to take a placement through an employment service. What better way to go into hiding working for wealthy white folks. And Blanche only thought she was in trouble.
One Cranberry Way. A week long job. Time to figure out how to handle this check problem. Get a lawyer. That's what she should have done.
The occupants of One Cranberry Way are the Carter family. Aunt Emmaline is the family matriarch. Who would have thought it? She parlayed a $50,000.00 inheritance from her late husband into a fortune in the stock market. Do we need a reminder that money is the root of many evils?
Niece Grace's parents are dead. She's a likely heir upon Emmaline's death. She is married to Everett, a villain from the point of being introduced into the cast of characters. Grace is his second wife. His first was murdered. Having a cast iron alibi, Everett, reaps the benefit of wife One's legacy. But that money is gone.
The other likely heir is Mumsfield, cousin to Grace. Mumsfield is the most sympathetic character in the novel. With a diagnosis of Mosaic Mongolism, Mumsfield functions quiet highly. Derided constantly by Everett, Mumsfield is drawn to Blanche who treats him kindly.
Blanche intuitively recognizes that Everett and Grace mean to gain Aunt Emmaline's estate. If appointed Mumsfield's guardians, Emmaline's fortune is at their disposal.
Blanche and Mumsfield share a kind of invisibility in the Carter household. A black domestic and an adolescent deemed incapable of understanding the manipulations of Aunt Emmaline going on underneath their noses are things that Everett and Grace are confident will not be unraveled before the money is safely in their hands.
However, events take a turn toward violence. Everett and the Sheriff apparently are at odds of serious import to one another. Blanche overhears a sharp interchange between the two. The following morning, the radio news carries the story that the Sheriff committed suicide the previous night, driving his car over O'man's bluff.
Old Nate, the long time Carter gardener, drops by the kitchen to talk to Blanche over a cup of coffee.
"Hear about the Sheriff?" He asked her without a 'Hello' or 'How are you?' He didn't even wait for Blanche to answer. 'Shame, ain't it?' he added. But the huge grin that turned his face intho that of a much younger, more carefree man didn't match his words. It was probably events like the sheriff's death that got her slave ancestors a reputation for being happy, childlike, and able to grin in the face of the worst disaster. She could just see some old slaver trying to find a reason why the slaves did a jig when the overseer died.
But Blanche knows there are things better ignored.
It would be better to forget about the sheriff's visits, his conversations with Everett, and the limousine rolling silently down the drive that shouldn't be a problem. She had plenty of experience not seeing what went on in her customer's homes, like black eyes, specks of white powder left on silver backed mirrors, cufflinks with the wrong initials under the bed, and prescriptions for herpes. She was particularly good at not seeing anything that might be dangerous or illegal. But as good as she was at being blind, there were certain things she couldn't overlook.
However, the sheriff is only the first to go. The body count increases. Will Blanche herself leave her job safely? And what about Mumsfield? Who's to take care of him. Or will she "be murdered over some white people's shit that didn't have a damned thing to do with him?" It would be easier to skip town and head to Boston, lose herself back up North. Send for the kids when it was safe. But things just happen to fast.
Neely knows how to spin a yarn. This is not your conventional mystery. Rather, Neely relies on building characterization of the main players in this tale of a family divided by its greed for the family fortune. The dialog is sharp. Blanche is a refreshingly savvy investigator, though a reluctant one. Interwoven into a well plotted story is a starkly honest portrayal of black anger in the face of a heritage of white oppression.
It's no spoiler that Blanche survives. This is the beginning of a series. Neely's debut drew the attention it deserved. The Agatha Award for Best First Novel, 1992. The Andrew Award for Best First Novel, 1993. And the Macavity Award for Best First Novel, 1993.
The novel's ending may leave some readers conflicted. Be warned. I won't reveal anything more than to quote the old saw, "Two wrongs don't make a right." I leave it to the reader to determine how the conclusion of this novel strikes them.Blanche on the Lam: A Blanche White Mystery
To state there is no racial divide in our country would be specious at best. Neely clearly establishes the suspicion with which the races warily eye one another. There's an infinite degree of sadness that this divide seemingly has no end.
WHEN Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old man-servant--a combined gardener and cook--had seen in at least ten years.
Those words first appeared in print in Forum: The Magazine of Controversy, in the April edition, 1930. It was fitting. Forum was at its height as a magazine of literary significance and had served as a clarion call on issues of social significance since the 1890s. It ceased publication in 1950. I can only surmise the editorial staff threw up their hands in the face of rising McCarthyism.
I KNOW it's not the April issue. I couldn't find one! "A Rose for Emily" is in it!"
These Thirteen, First ed.,Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, New York, 1931
As always, you can find contradictory opinions by William Faulkner regarding the value of Novels, Short Stories, and Poetry. He has referred to writing short stories as "whoring," especially when he was sending stories off to The Saturday Evening Post, his favorite market for his short fiction. However, consider his remarks while writer in residence at the University of Virginia.
Yes sir. You can be more careless, you can put more trash in [a novel] and be excused for it. In a short story that's next to the poem, almost every word has got to be almost exactly right. In the novel you can be careless but in the short story you can't. I mean by that the good short stories like Chekhov wrote. That's why I rate that second – it's because it demands a nearer absolute exactitude. You have less room to be slovenly and careless. There's less room in it for trash. Faulkner in the University,Introduction by Douglas Day,Frederick Landis Gwynn, Joseph Blotner,University Press of Virginia, 1995
I ascribe to that statement by Faulkner where "A Rose for Emily" is concerned. For this story is a remarkable construction of plot, characterization, theme, and the use of a unique narrative technique. It is only through close reading, repeated reading, that the perfection of this story reveals why this story has become the most anthologized American short story.
Alas, Andalusia, aka Martha Jo, aka "The Queen" has decreed that I, who has decreed himself Jeeves around this abode WILL squire her to Kentuck, the local festival of Arts. And here, Dear Reader, I will leave you until I have returned, covered in the dust of the trodden paths, bearing objects of art, smelling of funnel cake, deafened by strains of music played too loudly through poor public address systems. Goodbye Faulkner. I will think of your story while I am gone.
Actually in route, I have in mind the ideal photograph for Miss Emily's house. Paint peeling, the grey cypress revealed underneath. And our town's oldest cemetery along the way. Perhaps time well spent. Happy reading.
The afternoon has passed as I told you, reader, it would. I have shaken the dust of well trodden paths from my shoes, my beloved is content with purchases made. I am content with photographs taken, downloaded, edited, and shortly to be uploaded and shared.
Ah, Mr. Faulkner. There you are. Well, you weren't whoring with this one. Nor were you telling a straight forward ghost story, although you have said so more than once. Your favorite themes are there, rising from the page. The changing South is there. Miss Emily's house itself is a symbol of it. The past is never past. That's there.
Once the Grierson mansion was a brilliant white on the finest street in town. Now it is falling into disrepair. No longer on one of the finer streets, it is surrounded by businesses, within the sound of the passing trains, near the cemetery where the rows of Union and Confederate dead lie. Miss Emily herself, dead, is a monument.
And we begin the story in the present with Miss Emily taking her place among the eternally peaceful. It is all fairly straight forward. Those first few paragraphs.
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.-Edgar Lee Masters, The Hill, Spoonriver Anthology, 1915
However, Mr. Faulkner tells his story in anything but a conventional manner after the seemingly innocent beginning narrative. Time becomes non-linear. The initial narrator who might have been an omniscient third person observer, a single first person voice, becomes the curiously effective first person plural narrator. The narrator is not I but We. Should you be patient and count, you will find "we" used forty-eight times. It is not a mere whim. Faulkner did nothing by whim.
Through multiple sets of eyes, through multiple generations, we learn the story of Emily Grierson's life and her place in the community.
Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town, dating from that day in 1894 when Colonel Sartoris, the mayor--he who fathered the edict that no Negro woman should appear on the streets without an apron-remitted her taxes, the dispensation dating from the death of her father on into perpetuity. Not that Miss Emily would have accepted charity. Colonel Sartoris invented an involved tale to the effect that Miss Emily's father had loaned money to the town, which the town, as a matter of business, preferred this way of repaying. Only a man of Colonel Sartoris' generation and thought could have invented it, and only a woman could have believed it.
When the next generation, with its more modern ideas, became mayors and aldermen, this arrangement created some little dissatisfaction. On the first of the year they mailed her a tax notice. February came, and there was no reply. They wrote her a formal letter, asking her to call at the sheriff's office at her convenience. A week later the mayor wrote her himself, offering to call or to send his car for her, and received in reply a note on paper of an archaic shape, in a thin, flowing calligraphy in faded ink, to the effect that she no longer went out at all. The tax notice was also enclosed, without comment.
Read carefully. It's like asking Salvador Dali for the time.
Emily's father found no suitor acceptable for his daughter. He stood in the doorway, chasing them away with a horse whip. He left her nothing but the house. So the good Old Colonel Sartoris fabricated the scheme to save her the taxes. Notice the narrator(s) observed her to have an angelic appearance.
The Griersons always had that superior attitude. The town resented that. However, Emily was to be pitied. Left a spinster at her father's death. No wonder she denied he was dead and the preachers had to talk her into surrendering his body after he had been dead for three days.
We did not say she was crazy then. We believed she had to do that. We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will.
Faulkner continues to play with time. He plays with the reader. Unless particularly wary, the reader does not realize he is being played by a master but merciless mouser.
That was two years after her father's death and a short time after her sweetheart--the one we believed would marry her --had deserted her. After her father's death she went out very little; after her sweetheart went away, people hardly saw her at all. A few of the ladies had the temerity to call, but were not received, and the only sign of life about the place was the Negro man--a young man then--going in and out with a market basket.
Then there's that peculiar odor that emanates from Miss Emily's house shortly after the missing sweetheart was believed to have married Emily.
So the next night, after midnight, four men crossed Miss Emily's lawn and slunk about the house like burglars, sniffing along the base of the brickwork and at the cellar openings while one of them performed a regular sowing motion with his hand out of a sack slung from his shoulder. They broke open the cellar door and sprinkled lime there, and in all the outbuildings. As they recrossed the lawn, a window that had been dark was lighted and Miss Emily sat in it, the light behind her, and her upright torso motionless as that of an idol. They crept quietly across the lawn and into the shadow of the locusts that lined the street. After a week or two the smell went away.
An idol is feared as much as it is worshiped. Or did they not want to know the truth?
Faulkner spins the hands on the clock again. The sweetheart was Homer Barron, a common laborer and a Yankee at that. A drinker who enjoyed the company of young men whom he told he was not the marrying kind. The Town decided reinforcements were necessary, summoning two Grierson cousins from Alabama.
Barron leaves town, but returns when the Grierson cousins leave. The Town decides it's just as well. Those Alabama Griersons were more superior than Mississippi Griersons.
Emily buys a man's dressing set with the initials "HB" on each piece. A man's nightshirt completes the ensemble. After Homer enters Emily's home he's never seen again.
Emily offers china painting lessons to a generation of Jefferson's children. Until the children stop coming.
The hands on the clock spin wildly.
She carried her head high enough--even when we believed that she was fallen. It was as if she demanded more than ever the recognition of her dignity as the last Grierson; as if it had wanted that touch of earthiness to reaffirm her imperviousness. Like when she bought the rat poison, the arsenic. That was over a year after they had begun to say "Poor Emily," and while the two female cousins were visiting her.
"I want some poison," she said to the druggist. She was over thirty then, still a slight woman, though thinner than usual, with cold, haughty black eyes in a face the flesh of which was strained across the temples and about the eyesockets as you imagine a lighthouse-keeper's face ought to look. "I want some poison," she said.
"Yes, Miss Emily. What kind? For rats and such? I'd recom--"
"I want the best you have. I don't care what kind."
The druggist named several. "They'll kill anything up to an elephant. But what you want is--"
"Arsenic," Miss Emily said. "Is that a good one?"
"Is . . . arsenic? Yes, ma'am. But what you want--"
"I want arsenic."...
So THE NEXT day we all said, "She will kill herself"; and we said it would be the best thing.
Time passes inexorably. Miss Emily is thirty when she abandons noblesse oblige and takes up with Homer Barron. She dies at the age of seventy-four. At last in death she can be openly acknowledged as one of the community's own. Her air of superiority is gone. Her peculiarity is gone. There is no trace of madness. She is no longer a burden or a duty. Two generations have passed. It is a new generation that rules Jefferson now. Only a few remain of Emily's own age. And they remember her as they wish to.
...and the very old men --some in their brushed Confederate uniforms--on the porch and the lawn, talking of Miss Emily as if she had been a contemporary of theirs, believing that they had danced with her and courted her perhaps, confusing time with its mathematical progression, as the old do, to whom all the past is not a diminishing road but, instead, a huge meadow which no winter ever quite touches, divided from them now by the narrow bottle-neck of the most recent decade of years.
There is but one thing more for Faulkner to do, the final pronouncement of the omniscient "we" that gives "A Rose for Emily" its indelible shudder up the spine of generations of readers.
Already we knew that there was one room in that region above stairs which no one had seen in forty years, and which would have to be forced. They waited until Miss Emily was decently in the ground before they opened it.
Just who knew about that closed room? How many knew?
(view spoiler)[Behind the door the body of Homer Barron rots inside his night gown into the bed. Beside his grinning face there is an indentation on the pillow. There is a single iron gray hair in the hollow there. (hide spoiler)]
It is this knowledge that not only establishes the town as narrator but also accomplice. We act not only affirmatively but also by failure to act, by passivity, indifference, and our own self interest. Rest well Emily, Homer, for all, all, will sleep, sleep, sleep on the hill.
Mr. Chekhov,allow me to introduce you to Mr. Faulkner.
William Kent Krueger has created a good man Cork O'Corcoran, half Irish and half Ashinuabinni Indian. A former police officer in Chicago, Cork moved bWilliam Kent Krueger has created a good man Cork O'Corcoran, half Irish and half Ashinuabinni Indian. A former police officer in Chicago, Cork moved back to his home in Tamarack County. He was the Sheriff, married to a beautiful intelligent woman, and proud father of three children.
But things go terribly wrong when the Native Americans determine to exercise their fishing rights to the whole of Iron Lake. The lake is lined with resorts. Sport fishing is a huge draw to the resorts. O'Corcoran's objective is to see "The People" get to their boats safely and exercise their rights to fish the lake. However, the owner of a resort, terrified he will be put out of business, draws a gun as the Shinnobs make their way to their fishing boats. A shot is fired. A Shinnob Elder is killed. O'Corcoran takes out the resort owner, emptying his revolver into the assailant.
O'Corcoran's qualifications are called into question. A recall election is held. O'Corcoran is no longer Sheriff of Tamarack County. Depression follows. His wife Jo, rather than support him, wants a divorce. O'Corcoran takes up lodging in his dead Shinnob's quonset hut on the shore of Iron Lake.
Although he's no longer law enforcement, Darla Labeau calls O'Corcoran to report her 18 year old son hasn't returned from delivering the papers on his route. O'Corcoran follows the young man's route. It ends at the house of former Judge Parrant. At first blush it seems the Judge has taken off the top of his head with a shotgun. Son, Sandy, the newly elected Senator for their jurisdiction provides the reason for suicide. His father was riddled with cancer and had six months to live.
Local law enforcement accepts the easy answer, but O'Corcoran's not sure. What follows is a swirl of problems with a radical militia group, problems with accounting at the Reservation's Casino, and a crusty night time photographer who has taken enough photographs of the town's citizens engaging in activity they wouldn't want known to anyone. Those photographs reveal Cork's wife Jo having a hot time in the hot tub with Senator Sandy Parrant.
Of course, the photographer also has pictures of Cork dashing naked from the sauna to splash into the cold water of Iron Lake with Molly Nurmi, a pretty redhead. Although Cork has been headed for a divorce, there's a lot of Lutherans in Tamarack County that wouldn't care that Cork was separated.
Top everything off with an old man's Native belief that there's an ancient monster known as the Windigo who is apparently knocking bodies off left and right.
The plotting is tight. The dialog's just right. Some of the mystery is readily foreseeable. Some isn't.
Will Cork get back together with Jo? Will he restore his reputation? Will he get his job back? All these questions hang in the balance of Cork putting the pieces together.
Altogether this is a very satisfying debut of a likeable character. Don't be surprised if you're reminded of Craig Johnston's Longmire novels. That's not a bad recommendation.
Unlike some debut novels in a series, Krueger gets his story right with a fully put together character in a setting with a good sense of place. This one won't be my last Krueger read. ...more
"Henry and I dug the hole seven feet deep. Any more shallower and the corpse was liab
Mudbound: Hillary Jordan's Debut Novel
Hillary Jordan, 2011
"Henry and I dug the hole seven feet deep. Any more shallower and the corpse was liable to come rising up during the next big flood. Howdy boys! Remember me? The thought of it kept us digging even after the blisters on our palms had burst, re-formed and burst again. Every shovelful was an agony--the old man getting in his last licks. Still, I was glad of the pain. It shoved away thoughts and memories."
Henry and Jamie McAllan are brothers digging the grave for their father, Pappy. In the words of Shakespeare, "Nothing became him in life like the leaving it."
To cut to the chase, Hillary Jordanwrote a fine debut novel. The setting is the Mississippi Delta in 1946. Big brother Henry, a veteran of World War One, and a hard working member of the Corp of Army Engineers, marries city bred Laura of Memphis, Tennessee. Laura is thirty-one, an English teacher, whose mother had feared she would die an old maid.
Following their marriage, Laura is shocked to learn that Henry always wanted to be a farmer. He has bought two hundred acres of rich Delta dirt and packs Laura and their two daughters off to a wonderful home which he had rented for them to live in while he worked the farm. However, Henry, ever trustful, has been duped. When they arrive at the home, Henry and family learn that the previous owner has sold the home. With all the soldiers returning from World War Two, there are no other houses to rent.
Mississippi Delta Cotton Field
Not only does Henry need a home for his wife and daughters, he needs one for his Pappy. Pappy is a curmudgeonly old man who tyrannizes Laura and terrifies his granddaughters.
It's off to Henry's farm which he wants to name "Fair Fields." Laura who quickly learns the farm floods every time the river rises dubs it "Mud Bound." Not only does the land flood, but their home is cut off from the nearest town.
Jordan deftly weaves the lives of the McAllan and Jackson families into a riveting story. Hap and Florence Jackson are tenant farmers on Henry's land. Florence is the community's mid-wife and purveyor of folk remedies. Florence also comes to work for Laura in the McAllan home.
What Jordan does to create such a compelling read is the use of multiple voices. Mudbound is told initially by Jamie, Laura, Henry, Hap, and Florence. To Jordan's credit, each voice is unique, and each member of this chorus adds their own perfect thoughts and observations to propel the novel from start to finish.
Jordan really hits her stride when she adds Ronsel Jackson, the eldest son of Hap and Florence. Ronsel has served in the European theater of war as a member of the Black Panthers, famous for their furious assaults against the German Army. This was one of George Patton's favored units.
The 761st Black Panthers whose motto was "Come out Fighting"
Both Jamie and Ronsel carry the emotional scars of their combat. Both are decorated heroes. Jamie won the Distinguished Flying Cross flying B-24 Liberators. Ronsel rose to the rank of Tank Commander and has a chest full of medals. The experiences that haunt them bind them together as friends. But they are also bound by alcoholism to forget the nightmares of war.
B-24 Liberator Heavy Bomber
But we must remember this is Mississippi in the 1940s. Both men must deal with forbidden love. Jamie must handle his feelings for his brother's wife, Laura. Ronsel learns he has fathered a child by a German widow. Both Jamie and Ronsel must deal with the Ku Klux Klan. The final third of Jordan's novel speeds to a tumultuous conclusion. It is impossible to put this novel down until the final page is reached. There is a fine denoument awaiting the reader
Jordan was born in Dallas, Texas, living there and in Muscogee, Oklahoma, until she attended Wellesley College. Her route to writing was a circuitous one. Jordan entered the world of advertising, and created a number of commercials featuring the Everready Bunny. Imagine that.
Fortunately for readers of this novel, Jordan entered the MFA program in creative writing at Columbia University. Prior to its publication Mudbound won the prestigious Bellwether Prize for socially engaged fiction in 2008. The Prize was established by Barbara Kingsolver.
Jordan is currently working on a sequel to Mudbound which picks up the action several years after the action in this work during the heart of the Civil Rights Movement. I can't wait.
First edition, Random House, New York, New York, 1973
"He moves in the dry chaff among the dust and slats of s
Child of God: Cormac McCarthy's Outcast
First edition, Random House, New York, New York, 1973
"He moves in the dry chaff among the dust and slats of sunlight with a constrained truculence. Saxon and Celtic bloods. A child of God much like yourself perhaps.
The setting is Sevier County, Tennessee, in the 1960s. Our protagonist is twenty-seven. He is an orphan. His life between the suicide of his father and the loss of his home is an unanswered question. We are dropped into his story in medias res in the finest Faulkner style. As the story opens, the small, unclean, unshaven man watches his home place go on the auction block.
I have a long and uncomfortable history with Cormac McCarthy. He has repeatedly held me breathless with his novels full of violence and human degradation. But he has said that these are usual conditions of life. I cannot argue with him.
Consider Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, the Ted Bundys of this world. I am constantly reminded of the words of John Steinbeck from East of Eden: "You must not forget that a monster is only a variation, and that to a monster the norm is monstrous.”
Child of God is McCarthy's third novel, published in 1973. I had read three of what I call his "Southern Quartet." However, this one remained on the shelf. Call it taking a hiatus. Or, call it a necessary breather, particularly after being wrung by the neck by Outer Dark.
It took the novel being selected for a group read by members of "On the Southern Literary Trail" to cause me to begin to turn the pages. I began last night. It was after 10:00 when I turned to the first page. I turned the last around 3:30 this morning. McCarthy had done it again. I was drained. Sleep refused to come to me. I do not know when I drifted off to sleep.
How can one like a novel about a murderer who exercises his lust on his victims? It is a testament to the craft of McCarthy. He unflinchingly portrays the life and tragedy of Lester Ballard.
Scott Haze as Leroy Ballard in James Franco's film, "Child of God," 2013
It is discomforting that he builds sympathy for this devil. However, McCarthy does not ask forgiveness for him.
In the final analysis, we confront the question,"Is man the product of nature or nurture?" While every man may be a child of God, it is the lack of, or indifference of community that unleashes a monster. Nor should that assertion be taken as an excuse for the behavior of McCarthy's Lester Ballard.
"The people Jesus loved were shopping at the Star Market yesterday. An old lead-colored man standing next to me at the checkout breathed so heavily I had to step back a few steps.
Even after his bags were packed he still stood, breathing hard and hawking into his hand. The feeble, the lame, I could hardly look at them: shuffling through the aisles, they smelled of decay, as if the Star Market
had declared a day off for the able-bodied, and I had wandered in with the rest of them—sour milk, bad meat— looking for cereal and spring water.
Jesus must have been a saint, I said to myself, looking for my lost car in the parking lot later, stumbling among the people who would have been lowered into rooms by ropes, who would have crept
out of caves or crawled from the corners of public baths on their hands and knees begging for mercy.
If I touch only the hem of his garment, one woman thought, could I bear the look on his face when he wheels around?"
The Bottoms: Joe R. Lansdale's Edgar Award Winning Mystery
Joe R. Lansdale
Just a few weeks ago my neighbor handed me a copy of By Bizarre Hands, the fThe Bottoms: Joe R. Lansdale's Edgar Award Winning Mystery
Joe R. Lansdale
Just a few weeks ago my neighbor handed me a copy of By Bizarre Hands, the first anthology of short stories by Joe R. Lansdale. My neighbor is a professor of literature. I take his recommendations seriously. It was my first exposure to Landsdale. I was impressed.
I finished the anthology a few days before travelling to Texas to visit my wife's cousin, Kathleen. I usually travel with a book set in my destination. I chose The Bottoms to take along.
While some may question my classifying this novel as a work of Southern Literature, Texas is a mighty big State. It consists of distinct geographic areas, populated by very diverse people. Cross into Texas from Louisiana and you find yourself in East Texas, marked by huge tracts of pines, riversswamps, and the bottoms of the Sabine River.
The area is decidedly "Southern" as opposed to Cowboy country. It is the land of "The Big Thicket" that covers miles of territory which was known as a place in earlier days into which one could go and rarely be found if that was the traveler's intention.
The Big Thicket
Landale's novel is narrated by Harry Collins, now in his nineties, the resident of a nursing home. Recognizing his mortality, he tells the tale of life with his family in the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Thirteen year old Harry was the son of a loving mother and father, and doted on baby sister, Tom, short for Thomasina. Yes, Tom is a tomboy. Harry and his family are better off than most. His father is a farmer, a barber, and most important, the town constable. Both his parents have a strong moral code stressing the value of human life no matter the color of another person's skin.
Should the reader think this is sounding familiar, it should. This is Lansdale's move of To Kill a Mockingbird from Alabama to Texas. As Jem and Scout were intent on bringing Boo Radley out of hiding, so Harry and Tom are fascinated with an elusive figure known as "The Goat Man."
"The Goatman" is a well known Texas folklore legend. Outside of Denton, Texas, stands the old Alton Bridge, built in 1884. A black goat farmer Oscar Washburn lived nearby. In 1938, for reasons unknown, he was dragged from his family home, and lynched by hanging from the Altmon bridge. When the Klan came back to check on the their handiwork, Washburn's body was gone. Through decades, the Goatman has been sighted on the Alton bridge, sometimes as a figure leading herds of goats, sometimes carrying the heads of two goats, and sometimes as a figure half man and half goat.
The Goatman's Bridge
Known also as a writer of horror, it comes as no surprise that the Goatman appears as a central figure of interest courtesy of Joe Lansdale. The only change being that the bridge has been transformed into a deteriorating swinging bridge. Come on, it's near Halloween. Just go with it.
The Goatman of Texas Lore
Harry and Tom are accompanied on their adventures by an unforgettable dog named Toby. Although severely injured, Toby is indestructible and a loyal companion to his kids.
While out squirrel hunting, Harry and Tom find the body of a black woman, mutilated, and bound in barbed wire. Their discovery becomes the first of a series of murders. Constable Collins doggedly pursues the killer, although the white population shows no concern. Of what value is a dead black woman who was nothing more than a prostitute?
Racism rears its ugly head. Following in the footsteps of Atticus Finch, Collins is determined to solve the murders. His white neighbors dub him a "nigger lover."
Things rapidly turn uglier when a white woman becomes a victim of the mysterious killer. The Klan comes out and lynches an innocent black man. Jacob Collins crawls into a bottle when he is unable to prevent the Klan from carrying out hanging Oscar, the man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Poor Mose has lived alone since the disappearance of his wife and brain addled son years ago.
The town settles down until another white woman is found dead. This victim is no prostitute, but a respected member of the community, sought after by many suitors. Think "Miss Maudie."
Jacob Collins wreaks vengeance on the ring leaders of Mose's killers. He climbs out of the bottle to bring the real killer to light. Harry and Tom begin their longest journey one night, just as Jem and Scout did. Tom is the killer's intended victim. And the Goat Man comes out just as Boo Radley did.
The Bottoms is a satisfying read. However, I would have found it more satisfying had it ended with Jacob sitting up in Tom's room, knowing he would still be there the next morning.
There are flaws in this book. There are numerous sub-plots setting up other possible suspects that Lansdale's solution is to wrap them up in an extended epilogue by Harry which borders on the tedious. I found Harry's lengthy conclusion less than satisfying. I leave it to the reader to make their own determination.
Perhaps this is Joe Lansdale's homage to that masterpiece of Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird. I'll give him the benefit of a doubt. This novel is an expansion of his young adult novella,Mad Dog Summer found in Mad Dog Summer: And Other Stories. Lansdale is currently producing a film of The Bottoms, starring Bill Paxton.
Joe R. Lansdale is a prolific writer. The Bottoms captured the 2001 Edgar Award for best mystery. He has won the British Fantasy Award, the American Horror Award and has scooped up nine Bram Stoker Awards, and was voted a World Horror Grand Master. He is the author of the popular Hap and Leonard Series. His latest novel is The Thicket. Lansdale, born in Gladewater, Texas, now lives in Nacogdoches, Texas, where he is the writer in residence at Stephen F. Austin. ...more
Blindsighted: Karin Slaughter's first Sara Linton novel
And the publishers announce:
First there was Patricia Cornwell!
THEN there was Kathy Reichs!
NOWBlindsighted: 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.
Shadow Country: Peter Matthiessen's New Rendering of the Watson Legend
Edgar Artemas Watson (1855-1910)
For seventeen days I was held enthralled by ShaShadow 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.
He Died with His Eyes Open: Derek Raymond's Novel of Who Speaks for the Dead who Don't Matter
From the Reviewer
First Edition, Abacus Press, 1984
DerekHe Died with His Eyes Open: Derek Raymond's Novel of Who Speaks for the Dead who Don't Matter
From the Reviewer
First Edition, Abacus Press, 1984
Derek Raymond was the pen name of English writer Robin Cook, 1931-1994. When he began writing the Factory novels in 1984, he took the pen name to avoid confusion with the American author Robin Cook, known for his medical mystery thrillers. However, it remained a confusing matter because the European releases maintained the name "Robin Cook."
Robin Cook, AKA Derek Raymond
However, were you to pick up a European "Robin Cook" you would quickly realize that you had entered a different world. The only thing sterile in a Derek Raymond novel is the medical examiner's office. Consider this the creation of the English Noir Novel. Raymond's work depicts the down and out, the unwanted, and the unloved. The killers are brutal. The Sergeant of Raymond's "Factory" novels is capable of equal viciousness, though he does not readily appear to possess that characteristic.
The ends of Justice require the means to which Raymond's protagonist resorts. As we follow the Sergeant through his investigation, the question is whether it is a duty to enforce the law or has the Sergeant become an avenger of the dead. Raymond pushes our face into a rough version of John Donne's Meditation that, indeed, no man is an island, but a piece of the continent, and that any man's death is bound to be recognized by society, no matter his standing in it.
This is the first of five "Factory" novels. He Died With His Eyes Open was filmed as "On ne meurt que 2 fois" by Jaques Deray in 1985.
Oh, my...Charlotte Rampling, as Barbara
"Though Staniland had died at the age of fifty-one, he still had the innocence of a child of six. The naive courage, too--the desire to understand everything, whatever the cost.
This fragile sweetness at the core of people--if we allowed that to be kicked, smashed and splintered, then we had no society at all of the kind I felt I had to uphold. I had committed my own sins against it, out of transient weakness.
...I knew I had to nail the killers."
Meet the unnamed Sergeant of Division A14 of the Metropolitan London Police Department, better known as the Department of Unexplained Deaths. Well, it's a rather dead end position in law enforcement, don't you see? These unexplained deaths are of those people that don't matter. Their absence makes only the slightest ripple on the surface of life to justify their existence. You get tucked into A14, you'll not ever leave there above the rank of Sergeant. Nor will you be on the telly. And it's highly unlikely to find your case or your name in the papers.
A NOTE FROM THE SERGEANT
Don't you see, mate? It's quite simple. There's two kinds of dead people. Them that mattered and them that didn't. Now for those that mattered, you have the Serious Crimes Division. Now, there's the road to reputation and recognition, solving how a stiff that mattered got shuffled off his mortal coil. And you can be guaranteed that you solve those tough ones that's where you'll find your sodding promotions and your face on the telly and in the papers.
But sometimes, just sometimes, mind you, you find out there was a brain in that body that had some of the same feelings and thoughts you yourself had. You recognize him, you know? And this time it's all the easier to come to know Charles Stanisland. He was a writer. And when he wasn't writing he was recording his thoughts on life, love, the very nature of existence and whether there was any point to it at all. You listen and listen and listen, and it's almost as if you can become the man.
You know, if Charles Stanisland had got himself topped before he sold his inheritance to his younger brother Grumpian for pence on the pound, he would have been considered a serious crime. And there would be my fine colleague Inspector Bowman moving sharply up the ranks handling his case.
But there you have a fellow, down on his luck, in the bottle, in the rack with a woman, Barbara, who cannot or will not feel love and he keeps on and on trying to win something she can never give him. And there you have Charles Stanisland dumped dead, beaten to a pulp, and sliced with a blade. It took more than one to do for Charles Stanisland.
I really don't give a damn if I ever leave A14. It's a job, you know? A duty. To explain a death and wave the bloody facts in the face of the world whether it gives a fuck or not. You want to know my name? What for? You just call me Sergeant. That's what I do. You may not find my methods pretty or proper or conduct becoming. Come to think of it, I just may scare the Hell out of you as much as the ones that topped Stanisland.
THE REVIEWER WRAPS UP
Reading Raymond is akin to watching a Sam Peckinpaugh film completely in slow motion with every detail of violence flowing around the viewer to the extent the moviegoer checks his clothes for blood spatter evidence. There is a terrible beauty in the writing of Derek Raymond from which it is impossible to pull yourself away.
My thanks to the goodreads group Pulp Fiction for yet another stunning read. ...more
Something has spoken to me in the night...and told me I shall die. I know not where. Saying:
"[Death is] to lose the earth yo know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth."
Cash skilfully spins his tale through three distinct points of view: Adelaide Lyle, an elderly lady who provides the history and background of the story, serving as moral conscience of the story; nine year old Jess Hall, the portrait of innocence lost; and Clem Barefield, sheriff of Madison County, North Carolina for twenty-five years. First taking office in 1961, Barefield sets the events in the story in 1986.
Madison County is as far west in North Carolina as you can get, butting against the border of Tennessee. Marshall is the County seat. A patchwork of deep wooded valleys and steep mountains, tobacco farmers in the western region of the state produce burley tobacco on farms hewed out of land more reminiscent of a network of roller coasters than agriculture.
Marshall, NC, County Seat of Madison County
Folks in the Appalachians are God fearing. Passing through, if the Spirit moves you, you won't have a problem finding a church. But I'd recommend steering clear of churches in old grocery stores and gas stations, especially if the name of the church ends in the words "in Signs Following." Folks put their faith on exhibition by handling serpents, drinking strychnine, and handling fire to see if it'll burn'em.
Inside a Church of Christ With Signs Following
Now, you take the church in this book. It didn't start out that way. Once upon a time it was the French Broad Church of Christ in a real cburch with pews and a steeple, headed up by Pastor Matthews. But the cancer got him back in 75. Then along comes this fellow from out of nowhere, name of Carson Chambliss.
It didn't take long for about half the congregation to up and leave when Chambliss took over pastoring. Without half the congregation, the bank took the church and sold it to the Presbyterians. That was fine with Chambliss who moved the church down to the old grocery store and papered the windows so nobody passing by could see what was going on inside that building.
Chambliss put up a sign by the road at the edge of the parking lot and changed the name to River Road Church of Christ in Signs Following. Now, you remember what I told you about those churches ending their name in Signs Following. Underneath the name of the church he painted Mark 16: 17-18. That's those verses that say you got faith you can pick up serpents, drink poison, and the Holy Ghost will keep you safe.
"I'd seen people I'd known just about my whole life pick up snakes and drink poison, hold fire up to their faces just to see if it would burn them. Holy people, too...that hadn't ever acted like that a day in their lives. But Chambliss convinced them it was safe to challenge the will of God."
I'm nine and my brother is eleven. His name is Christopher but everybody calls him Stump. He's never said a word. He's bigger than me but I'm the leader. We live with Mama and Daddy. Daddy grows tobacco. When he hangs it in the barn and it dries out it smells so good.
Stump and I get in trouble with Mama when we snoop. There's things we shouldn't know about. One day Stump and me were outside and heard the noises Mama and Daddy make sometimes when we're told to go outside and play. Stump climbed up on the rain barrel but it wasn't Daddy in there making those noises. I saw Mama's preacher leave the house and he looked at me and Stump. I didn't tell Daddy about the noises.
On Sunday Mama went down to the church like she always does. Daddy doesn't go. Instead of leaving us at Sunday School with Miss Adelaide, Mama took Stump with her. I wanted to go, but she wouldn't let me. Only Stump. She took him to night church, too. I don't know what happened. But Stump died. Daddy got so mad at the men from church that brought Stump home he hit them and hit them.
Twenty five years next month. That's how long I've been Sheriff here in Madison County. My grandfather was Sheriff over in Henderson County. And my father farmed apples there. Hendersonville, Flat Rock, they're little more than an hour away, but living here is as close to living in a different world as you can get, no matter how old you get.
People here are different. They're superstitious. Know the old mountain ways. Religion is so thick in the hills and hollers up here you can stir it with a stick. But I haven't had a reason to set foot inside a church in more years than I can count, especially after my son Jeff died. It's not natural for a man to outlive his son. Jeff and Ben Hall were friends, good friends. Ben settled down, married, became a good farmer, a good provider.
There's calls you get that don't amount to nothin'. Then there's those you get you can't forget. My wife Sheila handed me the phone and it was Robby, my Deputy, telling me Ben Hall's boy Stump was laying dead up at Adelaide Lyle's house. Killed in that damned church over on River Road.
Sheila told me not to let things get out of hand. There's some times though you can't keep from gettin' out of hand. Specially when that damned crazy preacher Chambliss is at the bottom of things. How the Hell does a boy get killed in a church? Why in the Hell do you kill a child who is incapable of speaking a word?
Wiley Cash can write. He can tell a story. Cash began A Land Before Time while a graduate student in Louisiana. His mentor, as he worked on his dissertation, was Ernest Gaines. What an opportunity!
Ernest Gaines--I love me some Ernest Gaines' Books
Everyone seems to love this book. Cash is one of the new darlings of the publishing world. His interview with Vanity Fair is entitled "Author Wiley Cash on Being the “Justin Timberlake of American Literature." http://www.vanityfair.com/online/dail...
The dust jacket gleams with blurbs to the point you'd think this book came wrapped in stars. Clyde Edgerton said it would knock your socks off. Gail Godwin said it was like stepping into a Greek tragedy. Ernest Gaines' blurb is a little bit more interesting. Although it begins with a glow it dims to a weak glimmer. "I think this could be the beginning of a long fruitful career."
In an interview with Brad Wetherell in Fiction Writers Review Cash said he got the basic idea of his plot from a newspaper clipping about a young autistic boy being smothered during a healing ceremony in a store front church in Chicago. Cash wanted to move it South to North Carolina. http://fictionwritersreview.com/inter...
I wish I could love this book as many reviewers and readers seem to. However, as well as Cash can cause the reader to keep turning the pages, he leaves some mighty big gaps in his story.
How was Chambliss chosen as the new minister at the ill-fated church? How did Chambliss manage to convert a Church of Christ into an unquestioning foot stompin', snake handlin' strychnine drinkin' fire handlin' bunch with such ease?
Sure, this is a work of fiction. But even writers of fiction might do a little research about an area in which so much documentation exists, such as the Holiness Church movement. Bottom line, there are few converts to serpent handling. These churches, found up through Appalachia, consist of small congregations which include descendants of the original founding members. They don't grow into practicing churches overnight. Cash should read Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia by Dennis Covington.
Cash is being touted as the next Tom Franklin. Sorry. Franklin never left so many gaps in a story. I think Ernest Gaines is right. This book could be the beginning of a fruitful career. Or it could turn into a series of incredulous stories. The choice is Cash's.
I wouldn't discourage anyone from reading this book. I rate it a 4 for the prose, a 3 for the plot with an over-all 3.5. Hallelujah!
Gathering of Waters: Bernice L. McFadden's Embrace of the Seen and Unseen
"I am Money. Money, Mississippi...
Listen, if you choose to bGathering of Waters: Bernice L. McFadden's Embrace of the Seen and Unseen
"I am Money. Money, Mississippi...
Listen, if you choose to believe nothing else that transpires here, believe this: your body does not have a soul; your soul has a body, and souls never, ever die."
It is unusual that I continue to be so haunted by a novel that I take days before I attempt to review it. But, I dare say, many a reader may find themselves under the same spell so artfully cast by Bernice L. McFadden.
Gathering of Waters takes its title from the Native American name for Mississippi, "many gathering of waters." McFadden reminds us that the Native Americans driven from their home and the Africans brought to the State by white men as slaves both believed in animism, the idea that souls inhabit all objects. Money, itself possesses a soul that follows three generations of its citizens from the 1920s into the Twenty-first Century.
Good and evil are palpable forces that inhabit the souls of those people. McFadden swirls through a history of violent and turbulent events beginning with the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921. It is there we meet August Hilson, a minister, his family and a young girl, Doll, possessed by the spirit of Esther, a whore, whose throat was cut while plying her trade.
Doll's mother abandons her when she fails to exorcise Esther's spirit from her daughter's body. She gives her to August Hilson to raise. As Doll enters adolescence, Esther surfaces to seduce August. His wife divorces him. He marries Dolly who bears him two children, Paris and Hemmingway.
The Hilsons become homeless as a result of the Tulsa riots. During two days of violence, the Greenville District, known as the Black Wall Street of America, was burned to the ground. Over three hundred Blacks were murdered.
June 6-7, 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma
August is summoned to Money, Mississippi, to pastor a church on Nigger Row. It is their salvation. However, August is horrified to discover a bite mark on Doll's upper thigh when her nightgown creeps up while she sleeps. Doll, possessed by Esther, has taken not only a black lover, but a white lover, as well, Cole Payne, a grocer who welcomes both black and white customers.
In 1927 Mississippi was struck by the great flood. On the bank of the Tallahatchie River, Money was caught in its path. August is swept away as he delivers his Good Friday sermon. Doll is not at church. She is in the arms of Cole Payne. As the gathering of waters rushes over Money, Doll is pulled under the water and Esther needs a new home.
After the flood
In the aftermath of the flood, two young men are rescuing survivors and pulling the dead from the river. They pull the body of a young boy, J.W. Milam from the water. At the funeral home, as the mortician prepares to embalm the boy, J.W. is resurrected. Esther lives on.
Hemmingway has a daughter, Tass. When Tass asks who her father is, Hemmingway tells her she is her mother and father. I leave it to the reader to discover Tass's paternity.
Money watches the Hilsons and the Bryants through the years. It is the summer of 1955. A young man from Chicago, Emmett Till, has come to Money to visit his grandparents. It's love at first sight for Tass and Emmett. But we know how that story ends.
Emmett Till at age 14
Emmett Till let out that infamous wolf whistle. McFadden tells us that Carolyn Bryant heard the whistle and asked Emmett to repeat it. J.W., the half brother of her husband, Roy Bryant, witnesses the whistle. He's a mean drunk, and confronts Carolyn and Roy. "Nothing? A nigger whistling at you is nothing?" Emmett's fate is sealed.
Where Emmett Whistled
Money simply recounts the kidnapping and killing of Emmett on August 24, 1955, the not guilty verdict at the trial of Milam and Bryant, and the audacity of Milam to brag of having committed the murder in an interview with Look Magazine. We learn the bitter taste of double jeopardy and rage over the injustice. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/till/sfe...
Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam
Tass marries, but always remembers Emmett. She moves to Detroit with her husband who works in the automobile industry. Following her husband's death, she returns to Money, to one final gathering of waters. It is 2005. Hurricane Katrina is churning in the Gulf of Mexico.
McFadden draws her cautionary tale to a stunning conclusion that still brings a lump to my throat. That may well be your reaction, too.
"...McFadden works a kind of miracle — not only do they retain their appealing humanity; their story eclipses the bonds of history to offer continuous surprises...
This is where the real power of the narrative lies: not in the Mississippi River flooding 23,000 square miles, killing some 250 people in April 1927, and not in the awful, brutal death of a boy who later became a symbol of the civil rights movement, but in the richness and complexity of the characters, of the women of the Hilson family and the men, Emmett among them, who love them."
Whether you have embraced this tale as truth or fantasy; I hope you will take something away from having read it. I pray that you will become more sensitive to world around you, the seen and unseen. As you go about your lives, keep in mind that an evil act can ruin generations, and gestures of love and kindness will survive and thrive forever.
Choose wisely, dearest."
That's good advice to remember long, long, after reading McFadden's haunting work. "Gathering of Waters" has earned every bit of praise it has garnered. Read it and pass it on.
The short version: read this series. The setting is ideally suited for the darkest roman noir. Bernie Gunther, who left the Kriminal Polizei because of politics taking precedent over justice, is the tough, wise-cracking P.I> who thumbs his nose at Hitler and his henchmen. However, not even Gunther can avoid being embroiled in cases peopled by the likes of Himmler, Goebbels and Heydrich. It's a world where it's hard to hold on to honor; however, Gunther understands that honor has no boundaries, even when the Reich attempts to set them. Memorable, complex, with dialog that crackles, Kerr is a winner. Highly recommended for the noir or hard-boiled detective literature lover....more
Outer Dark: Cormac McCarthy's Novel of Judgment and Responsibility
And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping anOuter Dark: Cormac McCarthy's Novel of Judgment and Responsibility
And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 25:30, KJV
If there were ever a more unprofitable servant to appear in literature, it would be difficult to find one less so than Culla Holme. Brother to Rinthy, he has perpetrated the social taboo of incest. He fears his sin will be found out. When Rinthy's water breaks, he allows her to suffer through labor, refusing to even summon a midwife. She bears a son, whom Culla never allows her to hold or nurse. Rather, he abandons his child in the woods and tells his sister the child has died.
A travelling tinker finds the child and saves it. To hide his abandonment of the child, Culla prepares a grave, a deception Rinthy sees through, digging up the grave herself to find that no body is there.
Culla leaves their home and seeks work from town to town. Rinthy also leaves home to find her child, her "Chap," as she calls him.
Each of Culla's efforts to find work and become a profitable servant fail. He is pursued by three violent men, perhaps symbols of an angry God, who leave a path of death and destruction in their wake. I wondered that there were not four horsemen. But I remembered that McCarthy was the fourth, driving each of the three on and on. The targets of their violence are those with whom Culla has come into contact.
The simple honesty of Rinthy brings her into contact with individuals of a kinder and gentler nature than those with whom Culla deals and deceives. That Culla ultimately is confronted by the vengeful trio is inevitable. I leave the outcome of Culla's judgment to the readerm just as must also leave the outcome of Rinthy's search for her Chap.
McCarthy's second novel descends into darkness of a degree much greater than seen in his debut novel, The Orchard Keeper. "Outer Dark" is a work intentionally marked with the grim, grotesque, and gothic. With this novel, the reader sees McCarthy's escalating violence that is vivid in its ability to shock and appall.
This is a tale that might have been ripped from the pages of the Brothers Grimm and ramped up to a degree that is sufficiently shocking for a society that has become more jaded and unable to wince at the vilest acts of men. It will not easily be forgotten, once read. Nor is it a tale one will easily pick up again....more
The Killer Inside Me: Jim Thompson's classic Roman Noir
“Just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The fac
The Killer Inside Me: Jim Thompson's classic Roman Noir
“Just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?
Monsters are variations from the accepted normal to a greater or a less degree. As a child may be born without an arm, so one may be born without kindness or the potential of conscience. A man who loses his arms in an accident has a great struggle to adjust himself to the lack, but one born without arms suffers only from people who find him strange. Having never had arms, he cannot miss them. To a monster the norm must seem monstrous, since everyone is normal to himself. To the inner monster it must be even more obscure, since he has no visible thing to compare with others. To a criminal, honesty is foolish. You must not forget that a monster is only a variation, and that to a monster the norm is monstrous.”― John Steinbeck, East of Eden, 1952
Faucett Crest, Paperback edition, 1952
"A novel about murder unlike anything you've ever read." There it is right on the cover of the Faucett-Crest Original. And the people at that publishing company got it right.
My grandmother had a saying it was always easy to know someone who wasn't right. "That boy just don't look right out of his eyes." And I've known the times that she was right--absolutely right. But I think Steinbeck nails it. Because you can't always tell you're dealing with a monster. Because the face and body may be perfect. They are not physical monsters, no freak at the side show at the carnival. These people walk among us, looking and acting just the way we do, day to day. But they lack something we donhttp://www.goodreads.com/review/list/.... That is conscience. That is a value for the difference between right and wrong.
Take Jim Thompson's protagonist, Lou Ford. He's a deputy sheriff. He's the go to guy when it gets down to getting someone to talk. He's a natural at it, mouthing platitudes, assuring his suspects that he's their friend. He's respected by his sheriff.
Casey Affleck as Lou Ford in the 2010 film directed by Michael Winterbottom
However, when Lou feels the sickness, as he calls it coming on, he says he can't control himself. Perhaps you say Lou Ford was criminally insane. Not so. Lou knew the difference between right and wrong. He didn't give a damn. And when he determined it in his best interest, if people had to die, well, they were already dead in his book. Lou is a careful planner. He is a craftsman at construction of alibis. Adept at creating evidence pointing in anyone's direction but him, he's capable of covering his tracks well. Murder is not something that gnaws at his conscience, because he lacks one. Killing two people and covering his own skin, Lou returns home to his father's house where he prepares and wolfs down a large breakfast of ham and eggs. He's not squeamish.
I can't fault Jim Thompson for the psychology he cites accurately, the material that was commonly referred to at the time of his writing The Killer Inside Me Emil Kraepelin, whose works Lou Ford studies in his father's medical library is credited with the birth of modern psychiatric diagnoses. However Ford singles out Kraepelin's work on dementia praecox the precursor for what we now know as Schizophrenia. That diagnosis is a psychosis, amounting to a break with reality and a failure to recognize reality. A common description of defining a person's mental status is whether he is oriented x 3, that is, to person, place and time. That does not ever fit Lou Ford. He's conscious of person place and time at all times. It's his "moral" compass that's broken.
Emil Kraepelin, Lou Ford's favorite author
Lou Ford's personality is described with unerring accuracy in Kraepelin's later work, which would have been available to Jim Thompson, under sections dealing with moral insanity. From wikipedia:
In fact from 1904 Kraepelin changed the section heading to 'The born criminal', moving it from under 'Congenital feeblemindedness' to a new chapter on 'Psychopathic personalities'. They were treated under a theory of degeneration. Four types were distinguished: born criminals (inborn delinquents), pathological liars, querulous persons, and Triebmenschen (persons driven by a basic compulsion, including vagabonds, spendthrifts, and dipsomaniacs). The concept of 'psychopathic inferiorities' had been recently popularised in Germany by Julius Ludwig August Koch, who proposed congenital and acquired types. Kraepelin had no evidence or explanation suggesting a congenital cause, and his assumption therefore appears to have been simple 'biologism'. Others, such as Gustav Aschaffenburg, argued for a varying combination of causes. Kraepelin's assumption of a moral defect rather than a positive drive towards crime has also been questioned, as it implies that the moral sense is somehow inborn and unvarying, yet it was known to vary by time and place, and Kraepelin never considered that the moral sense might just be different. Kurt Schneider criticized Kraepelin's nosology for appearing to be a list of behaviors that he considered undesirable, rather than medical conditions, though Schneider's alternative version has also been criticised on the same basis. Nevertheless, many essentials of these diagnostic systems were introduced into the diagnostic systems, and remarkable similarities remain in the DSM-IV and ICD-10. The issues would today mainly be considered under the category of personality disorders, or in terms of Kraepelin's focus Antisocial/Dissocial personality disorder or psychopathy. (Emphasis added)
If there is anything in modern psychology that rings true, it deals with the development of sexuality. It is borne out be current research in the field that an adult's aberrant sexual behavior is often set during adolescence by the occurrence of a sexual event which leads the target of that event to recreate situations similar to those experienced in adolescence. So, perhaps whatever happened between Lou and his father's housekeeper, bent Lou a little crooked in his interactions with women in his adult years. And, of course, we know of his experience with a three year old girl up in the barn loft for which his foster brother took the blame. We also know that Dr. Foster knew of his son's aberrations, keeping him close under wraps, at home in Central City, Texas.
So, if you want to know what runs through the mind of a killer, Jim Thompson's novel is the one for you. Don't blame me if it sends a chill up your spine every few chapters are so. Listening to Lou Ford's story puts you across the table from Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, just to name a few. And, when you're finished with this book, don't take too much comfort that it's only a story. For there are monsters that walk among us and sometimes they look just perfect out of their eyes.
Jim Thompson, (September 27, 1906, Anadarko, Oklahoma Territory – April 7, 1977, Los Angeles, California)...more
Davis Grubb, born July 1919, Moundsville, WV, died July 24, 1980, NY, NY. Grubb was the author of eleven novels.
The Night of the Hunter, First Ed., First Prtg., Harper Brothers, NY, NY, 1953. The novel was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1955.
“Not that you mind the killings! There's plenty of killings in your book, Lord..”--Preacher Harry Powell
Let't get right down to it. Davis Grubb wrote a Southern-Gothic classic when he created The Night of the Hunter. It was his first published novel, appearing in 1953. Charles Laughton filmed Grubb's novel, which premiered in 1955. It was the only film that Laughton ever chose to direct. Laughton's masterpiece was added to the National Film Registry in 1992. It should be there. It has been chosen by the Criterion Collection as a selection among films deemed worthy of restoration.
Charles Laughton directs Robert Mitchum as the murderous Harry Powell
It is the Great Depression, sometime in the 1930s, along the Ohio River border of West Virginia. Times are bad. Families are disrupted. It is not unusual for children to roam the roads looking for food and shelter wherever they can find it. And men, who would not otherwise have done so, do desperate things.
Traditional ballads tell of the times.
TIMES ARE GETTING HARD, BOYS (Unknown, expanded by Lee Hays)
Times are getting hard, boys Money's getting scarce If things don't get no better, boys Gonna leave this place
Take my true love by the hand Lead her thru the town Saying good-bye to everyone Good-bye to everyone
Take my bible from the bed Shotgun from the wall Take old Sal and hitch her up The wagon for to haul
Pile the chairs and beds up high Let nothing drag the ground Sal can pull and we can push We're bound to leave this town
Made a crop a year ago It withered to the ground Tried to get some credit But the banker turned me down
But I'm goin' to Californ-i-ay Where everything is green Goin' to have the best ole farm That you have ever seen
"Times are gettin' hard boys" was collected by Carl Sandburg. It's earliest known printing is in Sandburg's The American Songbag published in 1927. Lee Hays a member of the legendary Weavers, blackballed as a result of the McCarthy hearings, ultimately faded from view. However, Hall provided the lyrics.
Ben Harper, husband to Willa, and father to ten year old John and four year old Pearl, walks out of the hardware store in which he works, determinedly enters the bank across the street, successfully robbing the bank of $10,000.00. But he kills the teller and the bank president in the process. Ben makes it home in time to stash the money in a clever hiding place, swearing his two young children to tell no one, not even their mother where the money is. It's a heavy burden to put on a ten year old boy. Pearl hasn't a clue to the significance of the oath she has sworn. Then, young John Harper watches his father carried away by the law.
Telling where the money is hidden might save Ben Harper's life, but he's not buying it. He's guilty. And he is sentenced to hang by the neck till dead.
Ben's lawyer tells him there's hope for clemency if he coughs up the money. The answer is no. Willa, with a glint of greed in her eye, begs Ben to tell her where the money is, on her last visit with him on the eve of his execution. Ben tells her the money will drive her headlong to Hell.
Ben's cellmate is Preacher, serving s stint in the pen for auto theft. He begs, wheedles, and cajoles Ben to reveal the hiding place. Ben still refuses and takes his secret to his death on the gallows. The hangman said he kicked for a while before he went still. He shudders at knowing he executed a man with a wife and two children.
Preacher is Harry Powell, a sociopath of the highest order. "Is it twelve, or is it six," he questions himself. For Harry is not just a simple car thief. He's the murderer of any number of widows into whose affections he has talked his way in. A man of the cloth. A man of God. Who could be a more perfect suitor. Well, it's not Harry Powell, whose character is based on the true case of Harry Powers, dubbed "The Lonely Hearts Club Killer," who swung from the gallows in Moundsville, West Virginia, in 1932.
Harry Powers. Innocent looking, isn't he? Among his victims, a widow and her three children. Their bodies and that of another widow were found in his home.
What kind of childhood did Harry Powell have to cause him to hate women with the vile abhorrence he held for them. Why was every woman the Whore of Babylon? Harry works his way into the homes of widows and murders them for the small amounts of cash stashed in the sugar bowl on the dining room table. He will preach a revival here and there and pass the hat for enough money to keep him alive until God tells him it's time to kill another woman.
Grubbs writes at breakneck pace. Preacher Harry is out of the penitentiary a month after Ben Harper Swings. He's in Ben's home town in a matter of days. Willa, given a mercy job at Icy and Walter Spoon's Ice Cream Parlor, is no match for Harry's smooth talking ways. And he's so good with the children. "My little lambs," he calls them. Pearl, who has no real memory of her father has no problem calling Preacher "Daddy." John sees through Harry for what he is. Harry's out for the money and he'll get it at any cost. It's not much of a spoiler to say Willa doesn't have a long and happy second marriage, not after she overhears Harry asking Pearl where is the money.
No one knows where Willa went
With Willa out of the picture, Harry has the children at his mercy. It is easy to divide and conquer when dealing with a ten year old and a four year old. It is easy to lock John into his room while he wheedles the secret of the money's hiding place from Pearl.
That Grubb has a ten year old outwit the wily psychopath might be a real stretch of the imagination. Grubb pulls it off without a hitch. Pride does go before a fall. The Preacher underestimates the determination instilled in young John Harper by the promise he made to his father to guard Pearl with his life. Thanks to John, the children escape. It's a ride down the Ohio River in his father's old skiff in which he and his father had run trot lines in better days.
It's on that run down the river that the children encounter Rachel Cooper, the most finely rendered character in the novel. Rachel has long been widowed and on her own. Even during the Depression she is self sufficient, selling eggs and butter. And if there are such things as Angels, Rachel is one of them. She's taken in three children, tossed into her lap by the harsh economic times. If there's room for three chicks, there's room for five. John and Pearl have a new home.
Lillian Gish as Rachel Cooper. She protects her chicks.
But it is inevitable that Harry will track the two children down. John sees him at a distance and hears him singing. "Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms. Leaning, leaning. Leaning on the everlasting arms." Just as John saw through the Preacher's false broadcloth coat, so will Rachel. It's only a question of whether good or evil will win.
This is a remarkable work of literature. The prose is flawless. Grubb drops you into the minds of each of the characters, even that of Harry Powell. It is a place in which you don't want to linger, but linger there you will. And Grubb compels you to stay there until he's ready to release you from his artful grasp.
Grubb grew up in Moundsville, West Virginia. He saw the effects of the Depression on his own parents. His ancestors had lived there for over two hundred years. He drew on his childhood experiences to create the world he wrote of in The Night of the Hunter. He remembered well. He wrote well. And in no other work did he write as well of social corruption through the misuse of religion and the disruption of the family as he did with this short jewel of a novel. Read it. Read it more than once. Watch how he put it together. It's just that damned good.
Charles Laughton may have gotten the glory. But there would have been no glory without Davis Grubb. Nor would Laughton have been praised so much without such a strong screenplay, written by no less than James Agee. Nor would Robert Mitchum ever have had his unforgettable role, with the words love and hate tattooed across the backs of his fingers.
James Agee, dead at the age of forty-three, May 16, 1955
"These letters spell out the Lesson of Life,boy! boomed Preacher with a cozening and unctuous geniality. Shall I tell you the little story of the Right-Hand-Left-Hand-the tale of Good and Evil?
...Hate! roared Preacher, thrusting up the fingers of his left hand so that all might read. It was with this left hand that old brother Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low! And since that ungodly day, brethren, the left hand has borne the curse of the living and Almighty Jehovah!
...Love! cried Preacher, thrusting up the right hand now. See these here fingers, dear friends! These fingers has veins that lead right square to the heart--to the almighty soul of Man! The right hand, friends! The Hand of Love! Now watch and I'll show you the story of Life! The fingers of these hands, dear hearts!--they're always a tuggin' and a warrin' one hand against the other!"
Ah, yes, dear hearts, that's some mighty fine writin'!
Listen to Grubb talk about writing and reading from his works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-m-iq... , Note: This is the first part of six. One part leads you to the next. Rare to find this much of an author's lectures preserved so readily available.
Charles Laughton and James Agee feuded over the sceenplay of "The Night of the Hunter." Laughton claimed sole credit for the screenplay. It was not until years later that Agee's reputation was vindicated. Read Downriver and Heavenward With James Agee by Michael Sragow Agee: Film Writing and Selected Journalism and Agee: “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” “A Death in the Family,” Shorter Fiction for the Library of America. He is the author of Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master. ...more
The Devil All the Time, Donald Ray Pollock's tales from a ghost town
“Just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters
The Devil All the Time, Donald Ray Pollock's tales from a ghost town
“Just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?
Monsters are variations from the accepted normal to a greater or a less degree. As a child may be born without an arm, so one may be born without kindness or the potential of conscience. A man who loses his arms in an accident has a great struggle to adjust himself to the lack, but one born without arms suffers only from people who find him strange. Having never had arms, he cannot miss them. To a monster the norm must seem monstrous, since everyone is normal to himself. To the inner monster it must be even more obscure, since he has no visible thing to compare with others. To a criminal, honesty is foolish. You must not forget that a monster is only a variation, and that to a monster the norm is monstrous.” ― John Steinbeck, East of Eden
I learned that there are monsters among us at a fairly young age. On a bright spring morning around 1971, I was riding to Foster's Alabama, with a high school friend. There was a car, off the road, and stuck in a ditch.
John said we should pull off and help. But something didn't look right about it. One man stood at the front of the Caddy. Another stood by the trunk. As we approached, the man by the trunk looked at me. There are some people who have nothing behind their eyes. There is no conscience, or soul there, if you will.
I screamed at John to drive, even reaching to shove the steering wheel over to swerve us back on the roadway. It was a bit of good fortune.
Everyone loved Buddy Copeland, a big fireman, who was driving his pickup to go fishing on the Black Warrior River that morning. He had a winch on his truck. Being Buddy, he pulled over to help get the car out of the ditch. When they found him, it appeared he had decided to snack on a ham sandwich before heading on to fish. A blood soaked bit of it lay on the passenger seat by the door where the gun blast had blown it from his mouth. The men who killed him were named Turk and Alexander. They had no love for Buddy. He must have seen the body of the banker in the trunk of the Caddy they had hi-jacked earlier that morning. I watched their trial.
I grew up to hunt men and women who had no conscience, no soul behind the eyes. I was an Assistant District Attorney for almost 28 years. Unlike a lot of ADAs who swaggered around with their badge and a gun on their side, I carried a gun because of need.
Although most of my police friends favored a 9mm, I preferred a Walther PK .380. I was trained to shoot by the best shots in law enforcement. "Don't be a hero. Shoot for center body mass. Double tap. Shoot to kill. You don't, they'll kill you." I was a cop's ADA. I was good at it. I played to win. If I didn't think you were guilty, I refused to take the case. I backed up an officer during an investigation more than once. It was an honor.
My job was not done from a clean office. I went to the scene. I worked cases where sons killed parents for crack money, men shook babies to death, and jealous ex-husbands killed their ex-wives in front of the kids. The baby killer is on death row. When they slip him the needle, I'll be there as a witness.
Don't let Donald Ray Pollock fool you. Knockemstiff is a real place. It's a ghost town now. The nice name for the place is Shady Glen. Look at an Ohio Map from 1919, you won't find it. Look on a 1940 map, there it is. Pollock ought to know. He lived there before heading to Chillicothe to become a laborer at a paper mill for more than thirty years. After that he got an MFA and began to write. His first book is, you guessed it, Knockemstiff. Sherwood Anderson's advice to William Faulkner was good. "Write what you know." Otherwise, we might never have known about Yoknapatawpha County.
I've known places like Knockemstiff. I worked two homicided that ended up on Tuscaloosa's side of the County Line that separated us from Walker County. What began in Walker County ended up down on the Tiger Mine Strip Pit Road. It's a lonely place, where the maggots do their job if the body's not found soon enough.
As Pollock tells us, law enforcement didn't show up much in Knockemstiff. Neither did Walker County Law like to escort Tuscaloosa ADAs up on their Beat 10 road. It was a rough place. The people didn't trust outsiders. I took my own cop friends with me when I had to interview witnesses on Beat 10. They weren't any happier about it than I was.
The Devil All the Time begins idyllically enough. Willard Russell has survived war in the Pacific Theater in WWII. He's on his way home to Coal Creek, West Virginia to his parents home. But a stop in Meade, Ohio, leads him to a diner, the Wooden Spoon, where he meets a waitress named Charlotte. She's a woman he can't forget.
Although he returns to Coal Creek, he finds his mother has picked out a bride for him. Helen is an unattractive young woman. But Willard's mother had promised Helen's mother she'd look out after the poor thing when Helen's mother died.
Willard can't forget Charlotte, returns to Meade and marries her. They rent a house up in the hollers of Knockemsstiff from a cuckolded lawyer. They are happy. Willard and Charlotte have a son, Arvin Eugene. All's well until Charlotte gets the Cancer and Willard constructs an altar out of a fallen log. He and Arvin pray aloud there at the log for Charlotte's recovery. But their prayers are unanswered.
Willard must believe in an Old Testament God. If the prayers don't work by themselves, God must require blood sacrifice. Dogs, sheep, and larger game are strung up and bled to cover the prayer log in an offering satisfying to God. But if God is anywhere around, he's not in Knockemstiff.
Disconsolate from Charlotte's death, Willard cuts his throat at the prayer log, leaving Arvin Eugene an orphan. When Arvin reports his father's death to Deputy Leo Bodecker, he takes him to the bloody clearing in the woods.
"'Goodamn it, Boy,what the hell is this?'
"It's a prayer log,' Arvin said, his voice barely a whisper.
"What? A prayer log?'
Arvin stared at his father's body, 'But it don't work,' he said."
Arvin is sent to live with his grandparents back in Coal Creek. It seems he has a new sister, Leonore. She is the daughter of Helen, the woman Willard's mother had wanted him to marry.
Helen had taken up with a travelling preacher, Roy, who was accompanied by a paraplegic guitarist named Theodore. After Leonore's birth, Roy becomes convinced that if he could bring someone back from the dead, the audiences at his revival would grow by leaps and bounds. God must have been on vacation again. Leonore is just as much an orphan as Arvin Eugene. They come to view one another as brother and sister. Roy and Theodore take it on the lam after the Lazarus routine fails to take.
Years pass. Leo Bodecker, now sheriff, has a new set of problems on his hands. His sister Sandy is peddling her ass out of the restaurant where she waitresses. It seems his old opposition, the former Sheriff is rallying support for a new campaign. Sandy is complaint number one. Leo has got to do about his Sister's indiscriminate exercise of her sexuality, which is bounteously generous. The problem seems to be solved when Sandy settles down with Carl Henderson, a real shutterbug, who whisks Sandy away from town on extended vacations to add to his portfolio.
But there are no easy solutions in The Devil All the Time Carl's idea of a vacation is to wander the back roads picking up hitchhikers using Sandy as his bait. His favorite line of photography is taking photographs of Sandy in the arms of their unfortunate hitchikers, whom Carl dispatches with proficiency, documenting the whole sordid mess on film, developing his work in a private darkroom.
Meanwhile, down in Coal Creek, Arvin Eugene, protector of Leonore, discovers that the new Preacher had rather administer to the youngest of his congregation, including Leonore. When Pastor Teagarden impregnates Leonore, he rejects her, moving on to younger and more attractive congregants.
If God is present anywhere in he finds himself the incarnation of Arvin Eugene, who is packing his father Willard's Luger 9mm pistol, which he had traded for his own Nambu pistol taken as a souvenir ln the Pacific. Fleeing from Coal Creek, following meting out the Lord's vengeance on the misguided Reveverend, Arvin begins the long hitchike back to Knockemstiff.
In an almost incredible symmetry, who should stop to give him a lift but our happy serial killers Sandy and Carl. Arvin Eugene may be the most handsome model, the couple has ever scored. But Arvin is alert and most rescue himself from the shutterbug two which will not endear himself to sheriff Leo Bodecker.
Bodecker and Arvin take one last walk to the prayer log. Whether God is present, or the Devil laughs at one more triumph, the reader must discover for himself.
Pollock is a remarkable new voice in American literature. While he obviously shares comparison with Flannery O'Connor, none of O'Connor's theology is readily apparent in Pollock's work. Rather, picture William Gay decked out in clean carpenter's overalls, and read Provinces of Night or, among the most grotesque, Twilight. Here are the darkest aspects of Cormac McCarthy, and Tom Franklin as seen in Poachers.
Once again, in Donald Ray Pollock we have a novelist who writes that there are monsters among us and that to the monstrous, the norm is simply montrous....more
Stewart Neville's The Ghosts of Belfast: One Paddy's Lamentation
"I have passed with a nod of the head Or polite meaningless words, Or have lingered awhiStewart Neville's The Ghosts of Belfast: One Paddy's Lamentation
"I have passed with a nod of the head Or polite meaningless words, Or have lingered awhile and said Polite meaningless words, And thought before I had done Of a mocking tale or a gibe To please a companion Around the fire at the club, Being certain that they and I But lived where motley is worn: All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.
From Easter, 1916, William Butler Yeats
The words of Yeats capture the tone of The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville. In Belfast you can never be certain of the loyalty of the people to whom you speak. The result is not beautiful, but it is terrible in every way imaginable.
The troubles in Ireland have changed. There is an uneasy political truce. The tough faces of the IRA look smoother in tailored suits, seated in the House of Representatives. The new voices of the Republicans are Michael McKenna and Paul McGinty. But in their youth, they worked their way up the ranks of the IRA, schooled in the brutality of what it takes to get the Brits out of Ulster by Bull O'Kane, who still pulls the hidden strings of violence from his farm in County Armagh. He is the Bull because of his love of fighting Pits in his tumble down barn where the stakes of the wagers are always high, but not as high as the stakes on the streets of Belfast.
Gerry Fegan was also schooled by O'Kane. He grew up with McKenna and McGinty. He bought all the ideology of bloody resistance to drive England out of Northern Ireland and made his bones while still a young man. When the orders came down to take out a tout, Fegan did his duty. He did his time in the Maze, portrayed by his smoother contemporaries as a political prisoner. But he's not a mere prisoner on a hunger fast, he's a killer and he knows it, haunted by a string of twelve ghosts of those he killed through the years.
Released from the Maze as a part of the political machinations leading to the truce in the troubles, Fegan retains the stature of his reputation as a freedom fighter, looked up to and respected by all those who still look for a united Ireland. But Fegan is no longer the man he was. Gerry has gone to drink to escape the voices in his head. The ghosts are constantly with him. There's the twelve year old boy, a tout, he killed by putting a bullet through his head. The boy's buried in a bog. There are the Brit soldiers. The Royal Ulster Contabulary officers. Worst of all are the butcher, a young mother, and her babe in arms, all killed in the blast of a bomb Gerry left in the shop because the Prod Unionists were meeting upstairs.
The ghosts want vengeance. Gerry will only sleep when he yields to their cry for the blood of those that ordered their murders. When Gerry is approached in a Belfast cemetery by the mother of the twelve year old he caves in to her pleas to know where her son is buried and tells her. She tells him he will pay for what he's done, that everyone pays in the end.
There are eyes and ears loyal to the IRA everywhere. Gerry's meeting with the woman is seen and heard. Word is passed up the line that something must be done about Gerry Fegan. But none of those in the upper echelons of the underground resistance realize that Gerry still retains all the skills he learned as a young man. Fegan has no equal when it comes to the art of killing.
While Gerry sets out to appease the ghosts that haunt him, the IRA has to put the correct political spin on why the bodies of their brothers in the cause begin to mount. The murders are not being committed by one of their own, but by the usual suspects, the Brits, or the victim was someone who deserved to die because they had dipped their fingers into unacceptable business--trafficking in girls with Lithuanian smugglers of young flesh.
With each death, the ghosts of their victims leave Gerry, the twelve gradually dwindling as Gerry seeks his redemption by setting things right. Enter Marie McKenna with her child by an Ulster policeman. She is the niece of Michael McKenna, now seen as an outsider because of her affair with a Protestant Unionist. Gerry meets her at the wake for McKenna and watches her lips silently mouth, "You got what you deserved."
A curious relationship begins to grow between Gerry and Marie. The bond is cemented by his gentle love for her daughter Ellen. When the resistance decides that Marie's time has come to be driven from Ireland, along with her apparent Unionist sympathies, she will not go and the stakes grow higher. If she won't take exile, more extreme measures will be taken. Gerry won't allow any more deaths to occur for a meaningless cause. He becomes their protector.
Don't think this is a simple anti-Republican diatribe. There are no saints in The Ghosts of Belfast. The Brits still have their finger in the pie with Davy Campbell, a former member of the Scot's Black Watch Regiment, inserted as an agent to keep the British supplied with information of what goes on in the ranks of the underground Dissidents. Campbell has blood on his hands, too. He's dispatched to the North to sort out the deaths of the resistance for whom the Brits are being blamed.
Campbell will be the man to take out Marie and her daughter Ellen if necessary, and to kill Gerry, whom Bull O'Kane realizes is the real killer of his minions. If he can take out Campbell in the process--yes, he's figured out Campbell is a plant, all the better.
Neville drives relentlessly to a final confrontation at O'Kane's isolated farm. The tension never slackens. The question of who lives and who dies will not be answered until a storm of bloody violence breaks over O'Kane's farm, a stronghold for the most violent members of the Republican resistance.
Neville is good. It's as simple as that. A master of twists and turns, Neville weaves a subtle web of deception from the wet streets of Belfast to the green fields of the Irish countryside. The conclusion revealing the actions of Gerry's last ghost will leave the reader stunned, wondering if there is ever the possibility of forgiveness or redemption for the commission of evil.
Almost perfect, this is a solid 4.5 star read. Highly recommended. This is the first of three Celtic Noir novels by Neville. I'll be reading them. ...more
The Sins of the Fathers: Lawrence Block's First Matt Scudder Novel
Dell First Edition, 1976
"The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children."The Sins of the Fathers: Lawrence Block's First Matt Scudder Novel
Dell First Edition, 1976
"The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children."--William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act Three, Scene Five, Line One
All right. I admit it. I'm turning 60 in two days. And I've never read Lawrence Block. How could this happen, all you Block fans ask?
Lawrence Block introduced Matt Scudder to the world of detective fiction in 1976. No, I wasn't on an extensive Bi-Centennial celebration. I was in law school. I wasn't reading much of anything that wasn't between the covers of some massive tome guaranteed to cure the worst case of insomnia.
In a nutshell, I graduated from law school, passed the bar, neither of which has much to do with the practice of law, and became an Assistant District Attorney. Twenty-eight years went by in a flash. I didn't read Lawrence Block, Robert Parker, Ed McBain, or watch Law and Order. I lived it.
Along the way I had my favorite good cops who never wrote "cleared by arrest" until the case was worked and they and I knew we were ready to roll into a court room. I came to know a few cops who lost the faith along the way. Some cases do that to you. Four years directing a domestic violence and sexual assault program did me in. A year and a half in private practice was more than enough for me. Just call me semi-retired, and hoping to teach. It won't be law.
So with a few years behind me out of the real world, I get a yen for a good crime novel, watch Criminal Minds and I said it was about time when Booth and Bones finally did it. I have to give goodreads group Pulp Fiction a plug for steering me to some excellent reads in the genre. Give them a look. http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/5...
With that brief commercial interruption, I finally met Matt Scudder a couple of days ago. A Lawrence Block fan had dropped off a heap of Block's Scudder novels at our Library's book store. At a buck apiece I now know I got a helluva deal.
Block introduced me to a smart cop's cop--a man I've known before. But, just as in the real world, Scudder is never off duty. He's one of New York's finest.
He's stopped off at a bar for a drink on his way home to the wife and kids. Two bad asses with guns try to knock over the bar and kill the bar tender in one of those moments where everything goes wrong. Scudder kills one and knocks the other out with a shot through the thigh. These are the kinds of cases for which officers get commendations. Scudder is no exception. But in the fire fight, one of Scudder's shots ricochets off a brick wall and kills innocent bystander, seven year old Estrelita Rivera.
Smith & Wesson K-38 Combat Master, a common service revolver for law enforcement in the 1970s
Scudder can't shake his responsibility for the little girl's death. He leaves NYPD. He leaves his wife and two sons. Scudder's drink of choice is bourbon. He drinks a lot of it, frequently mixing it with coffee, though he recognizes that combination just results in being drunk and awake. He lives in a cheap cramped hotel room, operating as an unlicensed private investigator. In his way of putting it, he does favors for people and they give him gifts. Scudder's complexity is revealed when Block tells us that he tithes ten percent of his gifts to churches, though he's not a religious man. He seems to favor Catholic churches because you can light a candle for the dead. You wonder how many times he's lit one for Estrelita Rivera.
In Scudder's first case two fathers each lose a child, one a son, the other a daughter. Young Wendy Hanniford was a freelance escort. Her father, Cole, wants to know why his daughter was killed. Scudder bluntly tells Hanniford he may be opening doors he doesn't want opened, but Hanniford has to know.
It's an apparent open and shut case. The dead son is Richard Vanderpoel, son of a minister, who was Wendy's roommate. Richard is caught by a patrol officer running from the apartment, screaming obscenities, covered in blood, his penis out of his pants. Wendy is upstairs, slashed to death, apparently with a straight razor. When Richard hangs himself in his jail cell, it's case closed.
One of these does a nasty job
Both fathers have secrets they attempt to keep from Scudder. It's those secret sins that are laid on their children in this case. By the time Scudder has completed his favor for Cole Hanniford, there will be more candles to burn than just the one for Estrelita.
Could I see the solution coming. Yes. A mile off. Did I care? No. Block is a pro. He knows how to tell a story.
Scudder is Block's most enduring character. The background is set for Scudder's problem with alcohol and whether he'll beat it. There's a number of characters I imagine I'll see in later novels. I hope I do. Scudder's still at it in A Drop of the Hard Stuff published in 2011. Considering Block is a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America and has taken the Edgar, Shamus, and Silver Dagger Award, I've got a lot of good reading coming my way.
And, on your way to your favorite bookstore or library, remember...
Light in August, William Faulkner's Portraits of Loneliness and Isolation
Light in August, First Edition, Smith & Haas, New York, New York, 1032
"MLight in August, William Faulkner's Portraits of Loneliness and Isolation
Light in August, First Edition, Smith & Haas, New York, New York, 1032
"Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders." William Faulkner, "Light in August," Chapter Six, Paragraph One.
It takes guts to write a review of one of the great American novels by one of the great American writers. I could call it chutzpah. But I'm not Jewish. Just call it Irish-American blarney with a bit of a Cracker twist and a streak of red over my shirt collar. After all, I'm from Alabama.
The truth of the matter is there's been worse hacks than me that tried to take a hatchet to William Faulkner. It's hard to believe any man could be that damned good. Some men, critics for the most part, just can't live with how good he is. So they say he isn't.
But I'm in Oxford, Mississippi this morning. What Oxford hasn't torn down and replaced with high rise apartments and condominiums still leaves traces of William Faulkner that are there for anyone to see if they take the time to look for it.
Last night I met a lovely young woman and her mother over at Square Books. They were down from Joplin, Missouri, for the daughter to take the tour of Ole Miss. She's already been accepted at the University of Alabama, but she thought she should take the Ole Miss tour.
Where you meet the most interesting people in Oxford
We met in the Faulkner section. They were there first. Both were lovely. The daughter was seventeen. Her mother was graced with a timeless beauty that must give her daughter a good deal of satisfaction at what she has to look forward to when she takes a hard look in the mirror in forty years or so.
"Oh," the mother said, "We're in the way."
"No Ma'am. You're not. I never step between a young woman and William Faulkner. It's always nice to see."
"Mom, I don't know which one to get."
"Sweetheart, get all you want. Wherever you go to school, you'll want them."
"But if I get them all, then I'll want to read them all. I'll read them too fast and I won't get what I need to get out of them."
The temptation was too great.
"Miss, just how much Faulkner have you read?"
"I've only read 'The Sound and the Fury.' I don't know where to go next."
I have to admit it. I kind of let out a sigh, and sat down in one of those big easy chairs, conveniently placed by all the works of Faulkner and the many references published by various scholars through the Ole Miss Press.
"Have you ever felt like you didn't belong somewhere? Didn't fit in?"
She had already told me she was seventeen going on eighteen. I figured it was a safe bet she remembered being fifteen pretty well. Fifteen year olds get not belonging anywhere.
I saw her mother smile.
"Well, sure. Hasn't everybody?"
"Oh, yeah. Everybody. That copy of 'Light in August' you're holding there. It's all about that. Nobody in that book belongs where they ought to be."
So over the next few minutes I told her about Lena, walking all the way to Jefferson from Doane's Mill, Alabama looking for the man that made her pregnant. I told her about Joe Christmas, left on the step of an orphanage on Christmas morning, beaten by his foster parent because he couldn't learn his catechism. I told her about Joanna Burden being a Yankee from an abolitionist family who was never welcome in Yoknapatawpha County. And I told her about Preacher Gail Hightower whose wife left him and then committed suicide and how his own congregation wished he wasn't the man in the pulpit.
I asked if she knew what light in august meant. She shook her head no. I told her how livestock dropped their young in August. And I asked her if she'd ever seen those few days of peculiar light on an August day when the shadows were at their deepest and just before dark, before the shadows turned to black how everything flashed gold for just a few seconds, so fast, if you weren't looking for it you would miss it. She hadn't noticed. I told her when she lived some more years she would see it.
There was a tear in her mother's eye. I wondered if she still hadn't seen it.
"Tell me about the man. Tell me about William Faulkner."
And I did. I told her about how he wanted to go to war. How he lied about being shot down. How he wore his Canadian RAF Uniform around Oxford. I told her about Estelle, how he loved her, how he lost her, how he got her back and then wished he hadn't.
William and Estelle Oldham Faulkner, who called the quality of the light in August to her husband's attention
I told her to read, read everything--that Faulkner said that. I told her how he checked mysteries out out of Mac Reed's Drug Store and people started stealing his check out cards because they figured his autograph would be worth something one day.
We ended up laughing and talking a good while.
"Say. If I went to Ole Miss, would you be one of my professors?"
I don't know what it is that makes people think that. Maybe it's the old cardigan sweater with the leather buttons. Maybe it's the white beard. I don't know. It happens a lot, though.
"No, I'm not a professor. I grew up and became Gavin Stevens. I'm a lawyer."
They both laughed. We exchanged pleasantries, information. I told her mother that if her daughter ended up in Tuscaloosa, she could always call me. The daughter left with "Light in August," and "Absalom, Absalom."
The young man working the coffee bar brought me over a cup of coffee in a Flannery O'Connor mug. "It's on the house. You sold that Faulkner."
"No. I sold HER on Faulkner. There's a difference."
"Sir, you know something? You should have been a professor."
Yeah. Maybe so. But everybody's gotta be somewhere, whether they fit in there, or not. Well, it's 8:30. Store opens at nine. They want me in the Faulkner section today if I can stop by. I could use another cup of coffee.
Dedicated to the memory of Miss Maxine Lustig, my guide to Yoknapatawpha County and many other wondrous worlds....more