A thoughtful account of early-20th-century racial tensions weighed down by clumsy moralizing.

ANNE ALETHA

In a novel set in 1918, a schoolteacher in Georgia clashes with powerful racial prejudice fomented by the Ku Klux Klan. 

Anne Aletha O’Quinn’s beloved uncle, Carter Irving, dies and leaves her his farmhouse in Ray’s Mill, Georgia, to start her own school. She’s a cerebral woman with a “solitary nature” and tends to find solace in books rather than people. When she arrives, she’s astonished by the malicious bigotry she sees as well as by the powerfully influential presence of the Ku Klux Klan, welcomed by many for their defense of traditional Southern values since the stormy days of Reconstruction. Even the local religious leaders—Anne Aletha chafes at their hypocrisy and has “stomached enough sermons on sin and perdition to last a lifetime”—hail the Klan members as heroes. Racial tensions run particularly high in Ray’s Mill after a black man is accused of murdering a white man and two black farmhands are lynched by an angry mob. Anne Aletha quickly distinguishes herself as a progressive dissenter: She not only disdains racial bias, but also advocates for the education of black children and plans to provide deeded land to Alex and Nellie, two of her of black tenants. Debut author Wright intelligently chronicles this tempestuous time in American history, including the ramifications of World War I, the women’s suffrage movement, and the deadly spread of the 1918 influenza pandemic; for such a short novel, it is generously overstuffed with historical significance. The author’s writing is unfailingly lucid and filled with literary allusions, though her tendency is to lean too heavily on melodramatic sermonizing: “Was the whole world chained to its ignorance?” Wright’s depiction of the South, though, is as personally intimate as it is rigorous—she spent summers in Ray’s Mill as a child and based her story partly on love letters she serendipitously stumbled upon. Anne Aletha ultimately emerges as a memorable heroine—she displays a remarkable mix of intellectual depth and a courageous readiness to act boldly. 

A thoughtful account of early-20th-century racial tensions weighed down by clumsy moralizing. 

Pub Date: April 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64066-082-3

Page Count: 242

Publisher: Ardent Writer Press, LLC

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2020

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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