"In the Dark of the Moon"
(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie JUN 12, 2005)
Set in southwest Georgia during the 1940's, 50's, and 60's, In The Dark Of The Moon is the story of a woman's grace and her madness, a child's quest, and a family's secrets. It is also a tale of revenge. Underlying all, however, is the brutal racism endemic to the Deep South during that period, and the hope of change brought by the burgeoning civil rights movement.
Emmitt Till, a fourteen year-old black boy from Chicago was visiting relatives in Mississippi during the summer of 1955. He was shot in the head, after being brutally beaten, for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Elizabeth Lacey killed herself that same summer, unable to bear the pain caused by the myriad of cruel images which flooded her mind. She left behind her precocious five year-old daughter, Kansas.
Elizabeth, bold and honest, as she had vowed to be when just a young girl, had long been the "family emergency" no one wanted to confront head-on. The "broth of the family's bloodlines," tinged with insanity that had threatened to boil over since her adolescence, when her gaiety became fevered and her sadness profound. Her mind, camera-like, would take snapshots, moments frozen in time, and file them away for later viewing. Elizabeth was unable to protect herself from the "bad images of the world:" the death of FDR, who once waved and smiled at the three year-old little girl from a passing car; photographs of concentration camp victims; Hiroshima and Nagasaki; a devastating betrayal which occurred on the night of her first high school dance; the violent lynching of an innocent black man she had unwittingly caused; the heinous murder of Emmitt Till which brought back all the pain.
Kansas Lacey, now twelve, has been raised by her extended family: her grandparents, the emotionally fragile and very distant, Miss Pearl, and Daddy Jack, the Sheriff of Sumner; Miss Lucille, called Grandemona, her great-grandmother; Aunt Francis, always Elizabeth's confidant, who now wants to take on that same role for Kansas; the beloved Pinky, a black woman who had cared for Elizabeth when she was too ill to function, and then became a mother figure to the child, after her mother's suicide. The Lacey's, a dysfunctional bunch of folks, were unable to honestly answer the precocious child's endless questions about her parents and the past. They thrived on half-truths, euphemisms and omissions. As Kansas grew older, she was left to learn by the impressions she garnered and her own sleuth work, the results of which she kept locked away in her diary. She is not the only one working to bring the facts surrounding Elizabeth Lacey's death into the open. By Kansas' thirteenth year, all the evil and violence which had been hidden and repressed about the prominent Lacey family of Sumner Georgia, will come to light, and the daughter will finally learn that her mother "was solid and brave, in spite of the unwinding spiral of her mind and the poise of a pistol barrel at her temple."
Suzanne Hudson has created unforgettably powerful characters, whose voices will remain with the reader long after they complete In The Dark Of The Moon. The author is from a small town in southwest Georgia, where her grandfather, and great-grandfather before him, were county sheriffs. Her insight into the psychological and social make-up of life in the South is made even more credible because of her personal background and experience. The narrative is fast paced, taut and incredibly moving at times. The plot and subplots are riveting - I was unable to put the novel down. And Ms. Hudson's descriptions, bring the southern landscape to life, especially that of her much loved Lake Blackshear. Her depiction of the dark side of the Velvet Corridor is chilling. I highly recommend this extraordinary novel, compelling fiction from a most talented writer.
- Amazon readers rating: from 2 reviews
"In a Temple of Trees"
(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie MAY 28, 2005)
"Churches don't do it for me," he said. "But you know, when I was ten years-old, Miss Sophie took me to Temple Beth-El in Birmingham. I met the rabbi and they let me sit up in the balcony and watch a Bar Mitzvah. I guess that's the biggest building I'd ever been in. I thought it must be bigger than the White House or a castle or a cathedral. I felt real small in it. But significant. It was mysterious, and that white boy not much older than me was chanting in Hebrew, and it echoed all over. That's the only time I've ever felt close to God in a building."
" Did you ever get to go back there?"
"No. But I worried Miss Sophie to death about wanting to learn Hebrew and have me a Bar Mitzvah just like that white boy. And do you know she let me? I mean she taught me herself, every afternoon out in the garage, and one day we just drove out here and had our own ceremony. Just me and her....And that was when I really got to feeling like the deep woods was where God's heart was. And that's why I come here. To feel small and significant. It's sort of a private Beth-El. My own temple of trees, and it's really the only place I've ever belonged."
Big Jack McCormick owns Camp DoeRun, a cushy hunting lodge built on his own private parcel of West Alabama woods. Flush with game, this singular piece of forest is reserved for McCormick and his fellow huntsmen, a select group of five, in particular. These white men, all honchos, are pillars of their Three Breezes, Alabama community - the sheriff, an attorney, a bank president and McCormick's smarmy right-hand man. They get together regularly, far from their wives and families, their lip service to moral codes and the letter of the law left behind, to catch fish, shoot dove, turkey, and deer, drink bourbon, dine well and play with women, brought in especially for their fun and titillation. The aberrant is encouraged. Sometimes, there is just one women for all five, usually a beauty. Then the men would play "The Game."
On a brisk November night in 1958, twelve year-old Cecil Durgin, a "colored orphan," was working up at DoeRun. He had been trained to accompany the hunters, flush the game, skin and field dress deer, cook, clean, fetch and carry. On this one fall evening, which is to mark Cecil's life forever, he witnesses the perverse Game as it is played-out, and the vicious murder at the evening's finale. At his young age, the boy knows, as did most African Americans, that "life could be taken on any whim or mangled on a dare, that his own silence meant life." This lesson is brought home brutally the following morning when Big Jack has a talk with Cecil.
Thirty-two years later, the Reverend Cecil Durgin is, himself, a pillar of the Three Breezes community. He owns radio station WDAB, has his own show preaching "common-sense scripture," playing Gospel music, imparting local news, and offering spiritual advice. He has become a spokesperson for the black community, and politically, he can deliver the vote. Thus he bargains with those he detests to do what is best for the town's people. He still harbors dark secrets, however, and the resulting neuroses, brought on by his painful childhood, threaten his relatively solid marriage to a woman who loves him and shares his burden. Cecil occasionally drives through McCormick's woods to visit a place haunted by memories of another women, long dead, and to think about the guilt he feels for endangering his marriage.
An important election is coming up, one which could significantly impact the ever accumulating wealth of the four remaining DoeRun lodge men. They see Cecil as a major threat to their plans, and although times have changed significantly since that November night in 1958, they still have the Klan around to do their bidding. The fast paced, taut narrative moves toward a chilling conclusion, gathering momentum and building tension as it goes. Cecil is not the only one scarred by secrets, which are all about to come to light.
Suzanne Hudson paints a dark and disturbing portrait of the south as it was, with its brutal enforcement of strict class and color lines. She vividly depicts the omnipotence of a powerful few who were able to destroy, with impunity, the lives of the innocent, by a single gesture or word. Here men gave more respect and importance to the game they hunted and prized than to the blacks they lynched. She evokes feelings of gut-wrenching fear and humiliation, as the reader empathizes with the victims of savage inhumanity. Ms. Hudson is a powerful, talented author. I intend to spread the word. This novel is a definite keeper.
- Amazon readers rating: from 14 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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- Curled Up interview with Suzanne Hudson
- Southern Scribe interview with Suzanne Hudson
- Curled Up review of In a Temple of Trees
- Southern Scribe review of In a Temple of Trees
- Small Spiral Notebook review of In a Temple of Trees
- Jackson Free Press review of In the Dark of the Moon
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About the Author:
Suzanne Hudson won a Hackney Literary Award and a National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities Prize when she was a graduate student, then withdrew from the publishing world for twenty-five years until the publication of a short story collection, Opposable Thumbs, in 2001. She is a contributor to Stories from the Blue Moon Café.
She lives in Baldwin County, Alabama, where she is a middle-school guidance counselor and creative writing teacher.