THE BIG BOXCAR by Alfred Maund


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This short- and effective- first novel concerns six Negroes who meet as they hop the same boxcar on a freight train going North from New Orleans. Five men and a woman, their number jeopardizes their trip and to case the tension along the way they tell each other stories in a perhaps ironic parallel to The Canterbury Tales. The stories of these pilgrims range from folk tale (the Talking Dog ""bringing the word to the Negroes of the South"") and fantasy (a tea-sniffer's version of minority problems in a newspaper office) through a story of offense and revenge and one of straight realism. A seventh, white escapee from a chain gang joins them, making their situation even more perilous, and when the freight makes its first stop at Birmingham one man gives his life trying to save the others, and two find a shocking way of guaranteeing the escape.... In spite of much brutality and sexual violence, the tone of the book is compassionate, humorous, ironic and even hopeful. The writing is good, though no attempt has been made to differentiate between one tale-teller and another in the writing- perhaps a serious fault- and the pattern is interesting. Generally, though, it is a very promising combination of short story and novel and the reader will be grateful that no attempt has been made to transliterate various Southern accents. Instead there is a Southern rhythm to the speech. Limited, but noteworthy.

Publisher: Houghton, Mifflin