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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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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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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