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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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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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