TOBACCO STICKS by William Elliott Hazelgrove


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Hazelgrove debuts in hardcover with an ambitious novel of the twilight years of segregation in Richmond, Virginia, that tries to be--but never quite is--like all those great southern stories that celebrate justice overcoming the ties of place and kin. Narrated by 12-year-old Lee Hartwell, the youngest member of an old Virginia family, the story begins in the last year of WW II. In that summer of 1945, Lee's brother Lucas returns from the war, wounded in the foot--a wound that, of course, raises all sorts of questions about Lacas. But Lucas--like Lee's mother, who needs frequent rest cures, and sister Sally, who's extraordinarily bitter--will remain marginal to Hazelgrove's plot, important more for adding dark texture to an already menacing atmosphere than for providing opportunities for analysis. What really matters here is the trial of a young black woman, Fanny Jones, the daughter of the Hartwells' housekeeper, Addle. This trial, the story's dramatic centerpiece, will test the family, their principles, and their position in a still rigidly segregated society. Fanny, who is accused by her employer, Mr. Hillman, an evil factory owner and political king-maker, of stealing his silver tea service, is defended by Burke Hartwell, Lee's father, simply because it is the right thing to do. The pace picks up as Lee describes the events that led up to the trial: his father's refusal to support Hillman's sleazy senatorial candidate; Fanny's meeting with black organizer Silas Jackson, who is later gunned down; the hostility of old friends to his father's defense of Fanny; and his growing friendship with Careen, Hillman's daughter. Race and sex are, as usual, part of the bigoted nastiness that Burke Hartwell courageously confronts. Too many echoes of other books, too much promised, and yet a moving if flawed reminder of a not-so-distant shameful past, detailed with grace and sensitivity.

Pub Date: July 15th, 1995
ISBN: 0553762427
Page count: 308pp
Publisher: "Pantonne (329 W. 18th St., Chicago, IL 60616)"