On a spring night in 1929, Mary Seneca Steele escapes from her home in Charleston, taking only her two children (Pet and Hugh), a new Auburn Phaeton (belonging to her abusive, shiftless husband, Hubert (Foots) Pettigrew Lamb, and $33. Her destination is a little vague: somewhere over 300 miles to the northwest. Beyond the North Carolina and South Carolina line, Mary “Sen” hopes to find safe harbor with “her father’s people.” Armed only with her memory of her deceased father’s tales of a near-mythical mountain realm inhabited by the Steeles and their kin, this feisty little woman is making a desperate bid for a new life.
Yes dear reader, when Stephen King’s dread armies of the mindless begin their apocalyptic trudge through the devastated towns of New England, they march to the sweet trills of Debbie Boone. As they tread their way around the bodies of their murdered victims, or as they gather by the thousands each night in football stadiums and parking lots, they hum to the electronic whine of countless battery-powered tape decks (all eerily playing the same song).
There is a passage in the heart of Ron Rash’s novel, The World Made Straight, in which Leonard Shuler remembers a visit to Shelton Laurel with his grandfather shortly before Shuler leaves to attend the University of North Carolina.
Dear readers, your attention, please! Hailing from the backwater town of Alexandria, Miss., allow me to introduce 12-year-old Harriet Dufresnes!
Although she isn’t as attractive as her older sister, Allison, Harriet is well read (Kipling’s The Jungle Book and a graphic account of Capt. Robert Scott’s trek to the South Pole). She is imaginative and smart. In addition, she has a gift for forgery (especially her absentee father’s signature), tree climbing, holding her breath underwater (like her hero, Harry Houdini), and a singular talent for devising imaginative games — like “Gethsemane” or “The Last Supper” in which she is Jesus and the neighborhood children are her sheet-clad disciples (they dine on Ritz crackers).
Campus Sexpot: A Memoir! by David Carkeet. The University of Georgia Press, 2005. 137 pages.
Before I was 10 pages into this “memoir,” Campus Sexpot, I found myself carried back to a little town in Georgia where I began teaching in 1958.
I Put a Spell on You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone by Nina Simone and Stephen Cleary. New York: Pantheon Books, 1991. $22.00 — 196 pages
Back in the 1930s, the inhabitants of the little town of Tryon, N.C., gossiped a great deal about “the little colored girl who appears to be a musical prodigy.” They were talking about Eunice Waymon, who had been playing the piano before she was 4 years old. She played at her mother’s church (Mary Kate Waymon was a Methodist minister), and as her reputation grew, many of the white residents began attending services to hear Eunice play. In view of the poverty of the Waymon family, a white friend of Rev. Waymon offered to pay for the child’s music lessons. Eventually, a fund was established to send Eunice to a classical pianist, Muriel Massinovitch, who trained the child to play Bach — an experience that would have a profound influence on the young pianist. After further training in Asheville, Eunice went to Julliard.
Franklin, Tennessee. It is November 1864, and many of us (Civil War buffs) have been here before.
We recognize this gentle slope that rises to the Carnton plantation and the terraced mansion surrounded by great trees. Nearby are a neglected garden and a spacious backyard where 1,500 Confederate soldiers will be buried (eventually). Historians call the Battle of Franklin “five of the bloodiest hours of the Civil War” –— a place where 9,200 men died on a single day in an encounter that Robert Hicks calls “horrible, beautiful and sudden.”
“And so we stood together like that, at the top of that field for what seemed ages, not saying anything, just holding each other, while the wind kept blowing and blowing at us, tugging our clothes, and for a moment it seemed like we were holding onto each other because that was the only way to stop us from being swept away into the night.”
— Never Let Me Go, page 274
About this time each year, when the days and tempers get short and the traffic lines get long — when I begin to see people trudging wearily in and out of stores and shopping malls — I think about the Grinch Club. I start fantasizing about an imaginary organization founded in honor of that nasty, green fellow who stole Xmas — which is not a bad idea. For thousands of people like me who exist in the lower economic strata of this country, Mr. Grinch could become a folk hero — a creep that had the moxie to speak for us all.
Shakespeare: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd. Random House, 2005. 572 pages.
Yikes! Saints and guardian angels defend us! It is yet another biography of Shakespeare! Is it possible that Peter Ackroyd, the venerable biographer of Chaucer, Blake, Dickens, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, has unearthed some tantalizing and/or unknown facts about the Bard? Was Shakespeare in reality Christopher Marlowe? Francis Bacon? Thomas Kyd? Two spinster sisters with the pen name of Shakspur? Was he gay and/or a closet Catholic?