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YOUR BLUES AIN'T LIKE MINE by Bebe Moore Campbell

YOUR BLUES AIN'T LIKE MINE

By Bebe Moore Campbell

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-399-13746-7
Publisher: Putnam

 Emmett Till was a 14-year-old black Chicagoan whose lynching in 1955 in Mississippi outraged much of the nation. Moore (previously known for her memoir, Sweet Summer, 1989) here fictionalizes his story without, curiously, ever explicitely acknowledging this ``little nobody who shook up the world.'' Lily and Floyd Cox are young marrieds and poor whites in Hopewell, Mississippi, in 1955. Floyd owns a run-down shack of a pool hall patronized by black sharecroppers. Armstrong Todd is a 15-year-old black kid raised in Chicago, visiting with his grandmother. He speaks some French in Lily's presence in the pool hall; this is uppity enough to draw the wrath of the Coxes. The insecure Floyd proves his manhood to his father and brother by beating and then shooting Armstrong in their presence. Clayton Pinochet, son of plantation owner Stonewall and guilt-racked closet liberal, makes sure the story goes national by telephoning (secretly) a New York reporter. Meanwhile, Armstrong's mother, Delotha, insists that her boy be buried in Chicago, where there's a huge funeral. Floyd is tried and found not guilty, but his business is ruined by a boycott. Delotha heads south, seeking vengeance, but changes her mind en route. Moore tells all this briskly (it's her one strength), while capturing only a fraction of the terror and downplaying the brutality: Till was disfigured almost beyond recognition. Having used up her core material quickly (poor pacing), she fills the novel's second half (which ends in 1988) with soap-opera (the marital problems of the Todds and the Coxes) and a glib picture of the New South, embodied in Lily's spunky daughter Doreen, who joins her black sisters on a picket line (``I ain't scared of being raped by Willie Horton, Mama. I'm scared of not having medical benefits''). This would be just another unmemorable first novel were it not for its crass exploitation of one of America's foremost victims of racism. Till, and the Movement, deserve better.