Episodes from a southern boyhood: family intrigue, post-Civil War history, race, religion, and superstition are all part of the mix in Baldwin's meandering first novel. It's 1916. Our narrator, 14-year-old Willie T. Allson, lives in the tiny coastal town of Cedar Point, South Carolina, with his nonagenarian Grandpa, his parents, Maum Anna, the redoubtable black servant who has kept him alive, and his playmate Sammy, Anna's nephew. The Allsons live in the shadow of the war, when the Union Navy destroyed the family home and a valuable dowry disappeared. Meanwhile, Willie's placid childhood is enlivened by the arrival of his go-getting cousin, Uncle Jimmy, whose aggressive courtship of Amy Mercy, a poor white girl from the swamp, precipitates a tragedy. Both Uncle Jimmy and Willie love Amy dearly; she dies suddenly (accidental poisoning), and her fearsome brother, the Hard to Catch (he excels at retrieving lost animals), disrupts her funeral and rides off with her body. The Hard to Catch is a devil- figure against whom Willie's silver cross offers only partial protection; his death at Willie's hands ends the novel and marks Willie's passage into manhood. Yet the conflict between these two erupts only spasmodically, competing with other incidents—like the arrival of mysterious Aunt Lydia from Paris, who smokes, paints her fingernails, and believes ``the Negro in the South was much maligned'': food for thought for Willie, who has accepted Grandpa's poisonous fantasies of a Negro uprising ushering in a cannibal kingdom. As the outside world comes knocking, and Uncle Jimmy and Sammy enlist, so the gentleness of the opening is eclipsed by a succession of violent deaths. Baldwin seems to back into this darker material almost inadvertently, suggesting a lack of control. That's a pity, too, because overall Baldwin's debut has considerable charm, tall tales and all. (First printing of 20,000)

Pub Date: June 1, 1993

ISBN: 1-56512-025-6

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1993

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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