Two childhood friends, one white, one black, confront desegregation.
In 1954, Tab Rutland, a white girl descended from Klan founders, was separated from her childhood friend Maudie, the black daughter of a neighbor’s maid, when Maudie got polio and was sent away for treatment. Here, in her third outing, Devoto (My Last Days as Roy Rogers, 1999) revisits Tab and Maudie and follows them through a summer that will change both forever. Tab and Maudie are out of touch, though Tab’s life has gone on much as it had been. She drinks floats downtown. She’s reluctant to spend time with Aunt Eugenia, a family oddity whose many eccentricities include traveling to India and living in Berkeley. Yet when Eugenia deposits Tab and her sister Tina at an activist camp in the mountains—and to the frontlines of the Civil Rights movement—Tab is forced to grapple with who she’s becoming. Meanwhile, Maudie has spent several years in the colored people’s polio hospital growing into a polished teenager with a leg brace and a bit of wanderlust. She doesn’t much care about desegregation efforts, but when she hears that a job teaching at a voting school will let her out of the hospital, she returns to a one-room church near her (and Tab’s) hometown. As Maudie slowly gains the trust of her congregation, she dares to dream bigger and bigger dreams—among them building a voter-registration float for a town parade. Still, as both Tab and Maudie find, it’s dangerous to stir up progressive sentiments, and, despite all the slow drawls and fried peach pies, a very real violence lurks beneath the surface of these sleepy Southern towns. Is the South doomed to remain separated? Are Tab and Maudie? As the summer heats up, the complexities deepen, while Tab and Maudie unknowingly circle each other’s lives.
Nicely woven: Devoto captures the internal ambivalence of a society teetering on the uneasy verge of change.