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Twenty-five years after Shiloh, historian Foote (The Civil War: A Narrative) returns to Southern fiction and to his multiple-viewpoint narrative technique, here applied--with mixed results--to a kidnapping in Memphis, September 1957. The nappers are a scabrous white trio: taciturn old-pro Podjo, overeager punk Rufus, Rufus' mature moll Renny; the mark is eight-year-old Teddy Kinship, grandson of one of Memphis' wealthiest blacks. Timing the snatch to coincide with the Orville Faubus crisis in Little Rock and thereby play on black mistrust of white authorities, the threesome grabs Teddy, stuffs him with tranquilizers, hides him in an airless attic (Renny waxes maternal), and collects $60,000--all without much of a hitch. Foote finds his complications instead in the fatal triangular sexual tensions of the kidnappers, in the over-familiar angst of a rich man's dependent son-in-law (Teddy's long-suffering father), in bedroom and kitchen squabbles--exhaustively explored as each principal character in turn takes over the story from Foote and uses the opportunity to indulge in a little autobiography. Unfortunately, this makes for a good deal of repetition and an artificially reined-in pace, too stiff a price to pay for first-person spiels that offer little real variety: these supposedly different folks use pretty much the same vocabulary, the same speech rhythms, the same sort of lightly ironic tone. When Foote's own generally lean and direct narration is in charge of the action and the solid Memphis atmosphere, September works as a straightforwardly effective slice-of-crime; in trying to beef it into more--with the Little Rock headlines, the sentimental psychology, the overemphatic sex--he blunts the suspense and exposes a host of old-fashioned novelist seams.
Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1977
ISBN: 0679735437
Page count: 324pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1977


NonfictionTHE CIVIL WAR by Shelby Foote
by Shelby Foote
NonfictionTHE CIVIL WAR by Shelby Foote
by Shelby Foote