Some days it’s like Christmas for me. I pick up my mail from the mailbox in the Radio office and make my way to my own office with an armful of large stiff brown envelopes containing books sent from large publishing houses in New York City. Sometimes the return addresses are a little closer to home: North Carolina, Louisiana, even Georgia. I open each package with a sense of excitement about what new book might be inside.
Oftentimes I’m underwhelmed at what I find; self-help, self-published, business—books I can do nothing with. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised; books that I wouldn’t consider for Cover to Cover but which I would read for my own pleasure.
Some books I receive, however, just make my angry!
I don’t mean angry that they’ve been published in the first place. No, what I mean is I pull them from the envelope and am immediately smitten and get angry because here’s another book I want to read immediately but can’t because there’s a list of others I have to read first. I curse the authors and the publishers for not consulting me before they decided when to publish this great new book. My reading schedule should determine when books are published so that, as I finish one book, another magically appears in the mail and that’s the one I need to read next.
Writers and publishers of America, take note!
I received such a book, “angry” books you might call them, the week before last. I was gearing up to write about the Decatur Book Festival, one of this state’s major book events, and knew I wouldn’t be able to get to this “angry” book for at least a week.
And what book might it be that made me angry? None other than the new novel by Terry Kay.
This is a major event in Georgia letters as Terry Kay is arguably Georgia’s greatest living writer. He has published ten novels (including this new one), a book of essays, and a children’s book; he was a 2006 inductee into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame; he won the 2004 Townsend Prize, Georgia’s highest fiction award; and he is a reader favorite all across this state and beyond.
His new novel is The Book of Marie, and, in a major departure from previous novels, is not published by a New York house but by our own Mercer University Press (which has an impressive fiction list!).
This publishing change is, in some respects, explained by the Author’s Note at the beginning of the book. Kay (pictured right with me in the Cover to Cover studio in October 2006) tells of a novel he wrote many years ago, A Prayer for Dreamers, that sought to examine “the sweep of social change in the American south from post-World War II to the mid-1990s, as reflected in the civil rights movement.”
The book contained three parts, but only the first part was published. It was called The Runaway (William Morrow, 1997). According to Kay, the publisher did not want to put out the complete story.
The Book of Marie is a major reworking of the two parts of A Prayer for Dreamers that were never published. It is not a sequel to The Runaway, but, Kay concedes, might be labeled a “follow-up.”
As I haven’t been able to read it yet, here’s what the jacket says about The Book of Marie:
In spring 1962, a young black girl named Etta Hemsley is killed at a civil rights demonstration on a university campus in Atlanta. The next day, the home of Jovita Curry, a black woman in Overton, Georgia, is burned. Both events are etched into the memory of Cole Bishop, eerily playing out the predictions of a former classmate named Marie Fitzpatrick.A new book from Terry Kay is a reason to rejoice, and obviously I was not seriously angry when his new book came across my desk. I can’t wait to get the time to read The Book of Marie. In the meantime, I use this blog to alert you to the fact that this new book is about to hit bookstores across the state, if it hasn’t already done so.
Both Cole and Marie are high school seniors when they first meet in fall 1954. Cole, like his classmates, is a native-born Southerner accepting the traditions of segregation as a way of life. Marie is a recent transplant from Washington, DC, a brilliant and assertive nonconformist with bold predictions about a new world that is about to be ushered in by the force of desegregation. Included in her prophecy is a warning for Cole that will cause him to leave the South to live and teach in Vermont. The odd friendship between the two of them continues after high school in a series of tender and revealing letters.
The story revolves around the fiftieth-year reunion of the Overton High School class of 1955, rekindling for Cole memories of Etta Hemsley’s death and the unsolved mystery of the burning of Jovita Curry’s home. His return for the reunion reunites him with classmates who, over time, have accepted a guarded assimilation of the races. He is also reacquainted with two black men—Moses Elder, the town’s mayor, and Littlejohn Curry, a reclusive artist who carries the scars of the burned house, and in those encounters, he understands clearly the influence of Marie on his life.
The Book of Marie is the story of a generation—whites and blacks—who ignited the war of change. Yet, it is also as much about the power of place— the finding of home—as it is about the history of events.
Run, run, as fast as you can to secure your copy so that you won’t be disappointed. And once you’ve read it, let me know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mr. Kay is in the house!