Tag Archives: small town life

“THE RISING PLACE,” by David Armstrong

Review by Philip K. Jason

The Rising Place, by David Armstrong. The Wild Rose Press.  198 pages. Trade paperback $13.99

The premise of this highly original novel is as follows: A young lawyer has moved to Hamilton, Mississippi to begin his career. His first job is to draft a will for a seventy-five-year old spinster named Emily Hodge. Emily has spent her life in this town. She is well-known, but she is clearly pretty much a loner. In the course of doing his job, David comes across a box of letters: these are love letters written by a much younger Emily to a man named Harry, who has chosen not to reply.

There is heartbreak and hope in each of Emily’s letters, especially since she finds herself pregnant with Harry’s child. As it happens, Harry is part Negro. And in this town during the 1940s, such a relationship was frowned upon, to say the least.

However, Emily was and is colorblind. She does not understand how race should make a difference in relationships or esteem.

Lawyer David makes the letters, along with several related documents, available to us, the readers. (Note that the lawyer’s first name is the same as that of the book’s author).

The revealed letters, providing the young Emily’s point of view about what’s going on in her life and the role that racial prejudice plays in it, constitute the story.

Through the letters, we learn that Emily is a woman of great passion; that she is a disgrace to her parents; and that she offers the truest brand of friendship to the very few friends that she has, some of whom are Negro.  To most of the town, she is simply a sorry joke. Readers will find her principled, but more than a bit naïve. Her beautiful letters reveal her beautiful soul.

The temporal setting is wartime, a time when young men are called to serve their country. World War Two, in which Harry serves, brings his life to a crisis, and it also supplies an intermediary of sorts between Harry and Emily who would marry Emily if given the chance.

Though Emily is the filter for almost every detail that reaches the reader, and though she is a larger-than-life dominant figure given the book’s structure, the novel is populated with a great number of carefully drawn and highly distinctive characters. It is through Emily’s interactions with these others that our portrait of her (and of the town of Hamilton) deepens. Ultimately, we are assured that Emily really knows who she is and that she accepts her outcast destiny. Readers cannot help but be sympathetic toward her.

David Armstrong

Many, including yours truly, will question whether times have changed at all. Today’s media regularly broadcast the injustices done to Afro-American citizens. However, this awareness takes nothing away from the book’s power and grace.

A particularly striking feature of the book is the author’s the presentation of the town’s Negro community, particularly its church and many of the individual worshipers. Emily is more at home with friends she has made there than she is in her parents’ house. Her few white friends, like Emily herself, are seen my most townspeople as misfits.

Author Armstrong provides a great deal of suspense through his shrewd pacing of revelations. He also includes several surprises before and after the final resolution of the plot

The novel has the musical feel of a tone poem; the brief, passionate letters sing out and echo one another, helping to make the emotional dimension astonishingly powerful.

Prior to being published, The Rising Place was made into a film by Flatland Pictures and won sixteen film festival awards before opening in both New York and Los Angeles. The film is available on DVD.

This review first appeared in the Southern Literary Review and is reprinted with permission.

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Teacher turned sleuth stirs up suspects in feel-good murder mystery

Murder is Chartered, by Diane Weiner. Cozy Cat Press. 180 pages. Trade paperback $14.95. E-book $2.99.

This Coral Springs writer has at least one thing in common with her protagonist in the Susan Wiles Schoolhouse Mystery series. They are both veteran public school teachers who keep busy. Susan, now retired, keeps occupied by volunteering in a new charter school. She also has a nose for mysteries, much to the chagrin of her daughter Lynette, who is a bona fide police detective. Driving home after a long stint at the Westbrook Charter School’s open house, she slams into a woman’s body, snaps to full wakefulness, and calls Lynette.  

Diane, who teaches at Millennium Middle School in Tamarac,  keeps extra busy by writing novels about Susan. This is #8.

Susan thinks she is guilty of vehicular homicide, but it turns out that the deceased was strangled to death and then dropped off a bridge onto the road below. The victim is neighbor Melissa Chadwick, the how has been determined, the why and the identity of the murderer are the mysteries that Susan will not be able to leave alone.

The fall – winter holiday season is moving into rural New York, but the town of Westbrook is not yet ready to be jolly. Mr. Weiner uses settings involving holiday preparation on both the family and community level to introduce a surprising large cast of characters (given the brevity of the novel) and to establish a normal atmosphere of good will against which this exceptional crime looms large.

Weiner

Visiting relatives, desired and not, complicates the lives of Susan and her husband Mike.

The town has been unsettled of late in other ways. There are suspicions about the business practices of Agrowmex, an important company headed by the murdered woman’s husband, Matthew. Matthew has pushed into Westbrook in a big way. He managed to get Melissa appointed as assistant principal in the charter school, which he largely funds. Her credentials are shaky. Matthew is bringing in outsider employees to work the factory farming plant. These workers, to some minds, are not the right kind of residents for their town. . . .

To enjoy the entire review, as it appears in the June 14, 2017 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 15 issues of the Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Murder Is Chartered

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