A desperate tale, beautifully written

“And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

And satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

Then your light will rise in the darkness,

And your night will become like the noonday.”

— Isiah 58:10

The setting of Desperation Road is a short stretch of highway in Mississippi between Magnolia and McComb near the Louisiana state line. It is a rural area and other than the Fernwood Truck Stop and the Armadillo bar, there is nothing of interest ... just closed stores, a bus station and a half-way house. This is where Michael Farris Smith’s characters spend their time in a desperate search for peace or redemption. They are all defeated and bear the scars of their encounters.

David Joy’s new book is a dark gem

Just after I bought The Weight of the World, I ran into an old friend of mine who is extremely well-read, and since I knew that he had already read the book and since I value his opinion, I asked, “So, what did you think?”

Hillbilly Elegy author can’t shake the label

“Southern Appalachia is a region about which, perhaps, more things are known that are not true than any other part of the country.”

— John C. Campbell

Early in J. D. Vance’s passionate tribute to his “hillbilly roots,” the author recalls “the Hillbilly Highway.” The term was applied to the network of roads that ran from the Southern Appalachians to the industrial towns of the North. Vance notes that this stretch of highway became famous due to the awesome numbers of cars with tags from Kentucky, Tennessee and the Carolinas that packed the roads to Dayton and other northern cities on the days before and after holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas). Usually, the term is derogatory, coined by alarmed northerners who saw their cities flooded by hillbilly transplants.

A mystery tale with a canine hero

This is a delightful book and I am confident that it will be judged one of the best books of this year. All aspects of its release have been shrewdly designed to make it a seasonal favorite. It is a work of “popular fiction,” and its parts (plot, character, etc.) are skillfully woven to make it a best seller in the upcoming holidays.

Searching for the meaning in a grueling trek

Recently, I attended “Coffee With the Poets” at City Lights Bookstore and heard the poet, Newton Smith, read and discuss his new collection, Camino Poems: Reflections on the Way. Smith told his audience that he and his wife, June, had completed the famous 500-mile pilgrimage which runs from the village of St. Jean-Ped-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

The life of Harry Crews makes for depressing reading

This may be the most depressing biography I have ever read. Although I frequently considered abandoning this painful trudge through one man’s tragic descent into addiction and madness, something kept me reading.

Cowan’s writing could make you cry

bookWhen Leo Cowan, Jackson County’s noted historian and author, died last February just after his second book was published, I found myself reluctant to write a review of Leo’s last book in conjunction with his obituary. I am an admirer of Leo’s writing and have always felt that his “authorial voice” put him in a special category. Jackson County has a large number of writers who either write about the past and/or record their personal history through storytelling or autobiography (I guess I qualify as part of of that flock!). However, Leo Cowan is head and shoulders above all of us.

Sylva movie’s author is famed British playwright

bookBack a few months ago, when Hollywood came to town, I was fascinated and when I heard that for a couple of weeks, Sylva was going to become a town in Ohio called Ebbing and that Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell were going to be policemen and that part of the dramatic action involved the fire bombing of the Ebbing Police Station (the old Massie Furniture building). I became foolish and began to make pointless trips to town in the hope of seeing some of the excitement, like the fire bombing and the fight on main street between Rockwell and Harrelson. That didn’t happen, of course. Hollywood is gone now, leaving not a rack behind. I didn’t get to see any celebrities, and although I heard that the dramatist who had written the script for “Three Billboards,” a fellow named Martin MacDonagh, had been seen on the street, no one seemed to have talked to him.

The March is filled with unique characters

bookSeveral months ago, I was invited to join the Senior Citizen Book Club at the Jackson County Senior Citizen Center. I did so and have been delighted by the discussions which take place on the first Friday of each month at 10 a.m. So far, we have discussed some classics (John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men) and the in-depth study of the Salem witch trials (Witches by Stacy Schiff). This month’s selection is E. L. Doctorow’s novel, The March, based on General Sherman’s devastating march through Georgia in 1864.

Novel mixes Cherokee folklore with real history

bookThis astonishing “novel” was crafted by three multi-talented western Cherokees who live and create in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. It resembles a kind of mosaic in which actual history, oral tradition and folklore are woven together using short stories, fables and myth.

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