CATFISH ALLEY by Lynne Bryant


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A well-intentioned debut of a woman finally rejecting the social and racial dictums of small-town Mississippi. 

Roxanne Reeves, a restoration expert and director of the Clarksville Pilgrimage Tour of Antebellum Homes, is asked to research the possibility of offering an African-American tour of her town (suggested by the group’s newest member, a Connecticut transplant who doesn’t understand the nuanced tension between the blacks and whites in Clarksville). Hesitantly, Roxanne contacts Grace Clark, an 89-year-old ex-schoolteacher to help her uncover Clarksville’s neglected history. Roxanne has no interest in the town’s black history; according to her “the War is over and the blacks got their rights, so why do we have to dwell on the past?” But she does want to impress Louisa Humboldt (who needs her mansion restored) and so Roxanne is willing to traipse around Clarksville with Grace as she is shown ramshackle testaments to the hardships faced by Mississippi blacks during segregation. Grace shows Roxanne the old schoolhouse for black children, now the lumberyard’s warehouse (whose owner, Del Tanner sadly discovers his father was in the KKK and involved in a lynching); the house of her best friend, Adelle Jackson, whose father was the town’s first black doctor; and the black-owned Queen City Hotel, where Louis Armstrong played. Grace’s youth is revisited through these tours, allowing Roxanne, who seems woefully uninformed regarding Jim Crow, to gain appreciation for the black community she and her social circle prefer to ignore. Along the way, Grace’s tragic story unfolds, centering on the tale of her brother Zero, his quest to become a doctor and the violent fate he met at the hands of Del Tanner’s father. Roxanne builds powerful bonds with the strong black women she encounters, which enables her to finally reveal the secret of her own less than glorious family origins.

Bryant’s sprawling tale of segregation, perseverance and interracial friendships is heartfelt, if at times predictable.
Pub Date: April 5th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-451-23228-1
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: NAL Accent/Berkley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2011


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