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Category Archive for 'US Regional'

The death of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till by lynching in Money, Mississippi, in 1955, serves as the starting point for a broad look at racial crime, the people who participate in it, their families, and the society in which they live and perpetuate their own version of “justice.” Author Percival Everett treats Till’s murder and those which follow with the seriousness they deserve, but he also keeps a light, often absurd touch, preventing the reader from becoming so overwhelmed by issues that s/he becomes inured to the individual horrors. Characters have unexpected names (Pinch Wheyface and Pick L. Dill, for example), and ignorance and profanity play a big role here as the murderers of Emmett, all from the same family, themselves become the victims of vengeance by unknown people. Roles get reversed, black investigators take precedence over local white police, and as lynchings spread throughout the country, they ultimately become an issue involving an unnamed former President. Unique and unforgettable in its presentation, format, and messaging.

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HARLEM SHUFFLE by Colson Whitehead is a gem of novel, one certain to win both literary prizes and enthusiastic plaudits from its readers. A crime novel which remains both entertaining and filled with warmth toward many of the characters, even those who do not follow the straight and narrow, it shows life as it is and emphasizes the variety of ways that people deal with their difficulties successfully, even when threats and fear become part of the equation. Despite his marginal set of ethics and a neighborhood in which murder is common, Carney as main character remains intriguing and sympathetic in most of his actions. And though he may never be considered a “hero” on a grand scale, he is a hero to many people for his accomplishments and his pragmatic vision of the community’s future possibilities. His innate goodness, even in the most trying times, somehow shines through, often with a touch of humor.

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Sebastian Barry’s previous novel, Days Without End, provides the historical background for A Thousand Moons, which features the same characters in a new, later time period (though it is not necessary to have read that book before reading this). In that book, two young, Irish boys, Thomas McNulty and John Cole, stowaways escaping an Irish famine, arrive in the U.S. in the late 1840s and join an Irish regiment in the US Army, where they participate for several years in the Indian Wars throughout the West. While there, they “adopted” Winona Cole, a six-year-old Lakota Indian child following the death of her mother during those wars. Moving to Tennessee just before the Civil War, they live briefly as a family, and during the Civil War, fight on the front against “the Rebs.” A THOUSAND MOONS starts at the conclusion of the Civil War, which does not bring the peace this young family group deserves. Early in this novel, Winona is attacked, beaten, and raped, and she has no memory of who her attacker was. The death of Jas Jonski, a man who had proposed marriage to Win also shows the violence by those in power against anyone who is different, as they try to remake post-war Tennessee in their own image. A former slave who is beaten and robbed of his much loved rifle, and the arrival of another Native American woman, who becomes a friend of Winona, add more drama to this atmospheric saga and its stunning characters. Sebastian Barry creates real people involved in real problems, and he draws in the reader to share in those problems and their triumphs. The climax is unforgettable – a true homage to Barry, his characters, and his thematic messages.

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Micah Mortimer, the main character of Anne Tyler’s latest novel, her twenty-third, could not be more ordinary, at least on the surface, yet Anne Tyler makes his story one that will keep even jaded readers intrigued and involved in his unexciting life. Already forty-three, he has had his share of girlfriends, and now, “women friends,” since he refuses to refer to women over thirty as “girls.” None of his relationships have evolved into anything permanent, however, nor has he expected them to. “He lives alone; he keeps to himself; his routine is etched in stone.” Finding Brink Bartell Adams, a first semester freshman in college, sitting on his doorstep one morning after Micah finishes his run, comes as a total surprise. Brink, the son of Lorna Bartell, a girlfriend from his distant past, is a freshman in college. He has found Micah’s photo in a shoebox in his family’s house, and is totally convinced that Micah must be his father. At the same time, Micah’s relationship with Cass, his woman friend of the past three years, begins to have trouble. As she has said, “I’m just saying that the you that you are might not be the right you for me.” Anne Tyler develops the story of a boring, unimaginative stick-in-the-mud and turned it into a charming and enlightening story of a man who just may have a chance at real life after all. If it is not too late.

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In this magnificent collection of short stories, Edwidge Danticat always goes straight to the point, but she does so with grace and an honesty that leads each reader to come to new recognitions about life and death, hope and despair, and love and marriage. As individuals and families face their lives both separately and together, Danticat’s stories cast an almost hypnotic power over her readers as the characters share their lives while they make decisions about who they are, how much responsibility they have for their own difficulties, and what kind of future they may be creating for themselves and others. There is no easy sentimentality here: Danticat’s tough characters have learned from their experiences that life is hard, and that any sweet memories they have must be treasured for what they are – partly the result of their own behavior and commitments, and partly the result of fate – inescapable, changeable, and often cruel. Set in New York, Miami’s Little Haiti, and the island of Haiti, the author creates a vibrant picture of the issues faced by first and second generation immigrants and their long-lasting connections to their heritage.

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