WHISTLE by Janice Daugharty


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 A man fleeing sudden trouble inadvertently sets in motion a series of revelations in a small Georgia town. Roper, the black protagonist, is ``short and stringy and gaunt,'' just out of prison after serving time on a drug charge and eager to stay out of harm's way. He's moved back into the decrepit trailer court on the edge of Withers, Georgia, dominated by his mother, Louise, a strong, devout, harried woman harboring a number of secrets, and taken a job with Matt Taylor, a farmer and contractor and one of the area's most powerful men. Things begin to go wrong when Roper stumbles across the body of Taylor's wife in a field he's been told to mow. Terrified that he'll be accused of murder, he hides her body in a nearby well--but does in fact become a suspect when she's reported missing. Then, to Roper's astonishment, Taylor himself is a suspect: It turns out that he has a lover, and that Taylor and his wife have had a series of bitter, and very public, fights. An increasingly panicked Roper is torn between the need to confess to save Taylor and the fear of what will happen if he tells the truth. The corrosive power of secrets, and the double-edged nature of community (often sustaining, but also often constricting), are central themes in Daugharty's fiction (Earl in the Yellow Shirt, 1997 etc.), but this is the first time she's focused on a black southern community. Her portrait of Roper's complex, resilient mother, of his two disaffected young sons Beanie and Bloop, and of his struggling friends and neighbors seems both admiring and exact. And Roper's long battle to do the right thing is handled with considerable subtlety and psychological acuity. Matters are further complicated when the complex blood ties between Roper's family and the Taylors come to light. The moment when Roper finally comes forward is both moving and unadorned, with Daugharty steering clear of melodrama. An ambitious and vivid tale, by an increasingly impressive novelist.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-06-017551-6
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1998


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