Tag Archives: Mississippi writers

Interview with Michael Farris Smith, Author of Rivers

Rivers by Michael Farris Smith (Simon & Schuster; 352 pages; $25).

It had been raining for weeks. Maybe months. He had forgotten the last day that it hadn’t rained, when the storms gave way to the pale blue of the Gulf sky, when the birds flew and the clouds were white and sunshine glistened across the drenched land.

michael farris smith 1

Thank you, Michael, for letting me ask you these questions.  Rivers left me chilled, gasping, and shaken to the core.  Did you always want to be a writer?

Not really. For a long time I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I was kind of a drifter. Change of scenery was something I really desired and needed so I didn’t stay in one place very long. But this restlessness took me to Europe for a few years and that’s when I began to read and that led me to the desire to write. I will say, though, that when it hit me at age 29, that’s all I wanted to do. Still is.


How would you describe Rivers?

Wow. That’s a tough one for the second question. I think RIVERS is about redemption, survival both emotionally and physically. I think RIVERS is about the odyssey of not only Cohen but of all the characters. There is so much to overcome. I wanted it to be more complex than simply good versus evil, and I hope it comes across that way.

What made you decide on the title?  Did you ever have any others in mind?

RIVERS wasn’t the original title. The original title had been used recently to my chagrin, but my agent and I were knocking around other ideas and when RIVERS was suggested, I thought it was perfect. It works on several different levels in the story. It’s strong, straightforward, Southern. Exactly what I wanted.

Michael, what was the impetus behind this novel?  How did you come up with the story?rivers1.jpg

There was no one thing, but several things came into play when I had the idea for RIVERS. Mississippi was still feeling, and is still feeling, the pangs of Katrina and something in me wanted to write a post-Katrina novel. But it wasn’t working and I was frustrated. At the same time I was also very much wanting to break from writing stories to writing novels and I wanted an idea that would, at the very least, picque interest. So I decided to quit banging my head against the wall with a Katrina story, and take the notion of hurricane destruction and the place and people that take the punishment and ramp it way, way up. What if a stream of hurricanes went on and on? What would it look like? What would we do? And then I started to work.

I want to talk more about Cohen.  He’s such an interesting man.  He’s a pragmatist, yet he stays in his home with the world practically coming apart around him.  He’s got a dog, a horse, and a whole lot of memories.  He’s haunted by the past.  Cohen’s a realist yet he also seems to be an idealist.  How did you come up with this character?  How easy or how difficult was it to make him so multi-layered and complex?  Is there any of you in Cohen?

I had an image of a man waking up in the middle of the night, on family land, on the Gulf Coast, after a big storm, and then he goes out to look around. And that’s really all I had. I just started to follow him, to see what he saw, to feel what he felt about what he was seeing. The layers eventually came, but I didn’t have a real game plan for Cohen other than I wanted to lay as much trouble on him as I possibly could and see how he would react. Turns out, he took a lot, and kept fighting.

I think there’s some of me in Cohen, like I guess there is in most all of my characters, but I don’t think there is much overlap. And least not consciously. He’s kind of a South Mississippi guy who grew up playing ball and riding around with a cooler of beer with his buddies and working with his hands, and that’s a pretty decent description of me.

Are there any plans on making a movie of this book?  I would love to see Matthew McConaughey as Cohen.

That’s a good suggestion. I’ll see if we can get him a copy.

Mariposa is another intriguing character and she also lets you talk about New Orleans and what happened there.  She’s also haunted.  How did you come up with the character of Mariposa?

Mariposa was so much fun to create because, like you said, she gave me the chance to use New Orleans and all the ghost stories and dark alleys of the French Quarter. I wanted some of the characters to be displaced, to have ended up in this situation by straight-up bad luck, and that’s how she came to be. I didn’t know when she was introduced limping along the side of the road that she would grow into the character that she grew into, but I’m glad she did.

How did Hurricane Katrina affect you and your friends and family?  Do you think Rivers would have ever been possible without Katrina?

I’m certain that there would have never been RIVERS without Katrina. It’s the first hurricane in my lifetime to have struck Mississippi and it had such an impact on so many people. I felt that impact and those emotions drove me through the writing of RIVERS.

rivers 1In Rivers, Cohen recalls a vacation he and his wife took to Venice.  It’s so interesting that they vacationed in the “floating city” given that New Orleans features so prominently in your story.  The low elevation of New Orleans means it’s like a bowl and this means it’s vulnerable to flooding.  Is there a reason why you had Cohen and Elisa tour Venice?

It started as a way to give some more information about Cohen and Elisa and their life before, so I sent them to Venice on a vacation for the sheer irony of the water. It was only about 4 pages, but my agent really liked it and suggested I write their entire trip. So I created about 20 pages of what their Venice experience was like and then sliced it up and put it here and there throughout RIVERS. It helped that I’ve been to Venice a few times and that is a place, much like New Orleans, with its own strange feeling. It’s so old, so beautiful and ancient one minute, then you turn a street and it’s decrepit and smelly. But it also has a haunting feel, and it seemed to be a good parallel to what was to come for Cohen and Elisa.

What kind of research did you do for Rivers?

None. I looked at a map once or twice to make sure I had the distance between places correct, but that’s it. I didn’t want to look at any footage of natural disasters or study hurricane patterns because I had a pretty strong vision of the place I was trying to create and I didn’t want it tainted.

Although this is speculative fiction, it is so powerful given our extreme weather this century.  If something similar happened in the United States, irrevocably altering the landscape of the Gulf South and the way we live, do you think things would progress as they do in Rivers?  Or would they be worse?

That’s a really good question and I’ve had this come up with other readers. About all I can say is I hope this isn’t a Gulf Coast that we ever see because there are many people in this world anxious to try and take advantage of calamity.

A great deal of loss permeates Rivers yet there is also a great deal of hope.  Was that an aim of yours when you set out to write the

michael farris smith 2story?

I think almost every story has to be about hope in some way. The novels and stories that I love center around hope and survival, whether it be emotional, spiritual, physical, psychological, whatever. The late, great Barry Hannah said all stories have to be about life and death and hope is in the middle of life and death.

I love Barry Hannah, another fellow Mississippian.  Did you have an ending in mind when you began writing Rivers or did the conclusion come to you over time?

I never have an ending in mind until I get there. I think planning too far ahead robs my characters of free will and that’s the last thing I want to do.

Which writers have influenced you the most? Who are some of your favorite authors?  What are some of your favorite books?

So many favorites: Larry Brown, Daniel Woodrell, Cormac McCarthy, Harry Crews, Jean Rhys, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus, Carson McCullers, Truman Capote. Some of my favorite books are The Stranger, Joe, The Crossing, Death in Venice, Old Man and the Sea, Ballad of the Sad Café, Good Morning Midnight, Feast of Snakes, The Iliad, [and] No Country for Old Men.

What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

I like to be outside, chasing around my daughters, cooking out in the backyard, playing guitar, tailgating.

Our home state has produced truly magnificent writers—William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Richard Ford, and Jesmyn Ward—just to name a few.  How does it feel to join their illustrious ranks?

It feels pretty good. There are so many great writers from this state, writers that you read and admire and aspire to be like, and then when you finally find your name mentioned alongside them, it’s surreal and satisfying and humbling.

What do you hope readers take with them after reading Rivers?

I hope that readers travel the same journey as Cohen and the others. I hope they are emotionally spent, that they feel the struggle, that they hope, that it’s an adventure.

What’s next for you, Michael?  Are you working on anything new?

I’m working on something but as always, you just wait and see how it goes. I’m excited about working again. There’s been a lot lately to keep me away from the healthy exercise of writing fiction and I’m ready to be back to it more consistently.

Thanks so much, Michael, for a wonderful interview.  Good luck with the book!

Thanks to you and so glad for your enthusiasm for RIVERS.

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Meet Michael!

Friday, October 4 – Book Mart & Café, Starkville, MS: Signing from 3:00-5:00 pm

Saturday, October 5 – Barnes & Noble, Tupelo, MS: 2:00 pm

Tuesday, October 8 – Lemuria Books, Part II, Jackson, MS: Signing at 5:00. Click here to reserve a First Edition signed copy.

Wednesday, October 9 – University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS

October 11-12 – Southern Festival of Books, Nashville

Wednesday, October 16 – “Tea with Authors” at Mississippi Library Association Conference, Biloxi, MS

October 18-19 – Auburn Writers Conference, Auburn University

Tuesday, October 22 – Mississippi State University, Starkville, MS

October 24-26 – Welty Writers Symposium, MUW, Columbus

October 29 – Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL

Friday, November 1 – Turnrow Books, Greenwood, MS

Thursday, November 7 – Texas A&M-Commerce, Dallas, TX

Wednesday, November 13 – James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA

Friday, November 22 – Lunch with “The Literary Club” in Columbus, MS


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The Resurrectionist by Matthew Guinn

Book Review: The Resurrectionist by Matthew Guinn

The Resurrectionist by Matthew Guinn (W.W. Norton & Company; 304 pages; $25.95).

resurrectionist.jpgImpeccably researched and minutely detailed, Matthew Guinn’s first novel The Resurrectionist is mined from the dark and almost-forgotten pages of buried history—literally.  During renovations of one of the oldest buildings on the campus of the Medical College of Georgia in 1989, human remains were found in the structure’s cellar.  Archaeologist Robert Blakely carefully studied the bones and published his findings in a 1997 book entitled Bones in the Basement: Postmortem Racism in Nineteenth-Century Medical Training.  Blakely discovered that the remains were procured for the purposes of dissection and training for the college’s medical students.  This was nothing new.  A dearth of cadavers existed in the nineteenth century, and both American and Canadian institutions commonly hired people to bring in corpses.  But there is a strange twist to this true story.  The Medical College of Georgia bought a slave named Grandison Harris just before the Civil War to be their body snatcher, or “resurrectionist” in the jargon of that era.  For decades, Harris dug up bodies in Augusta’s African American cemetery.  This was not a job he enjoyed, but rather one he endured because he was enslaved.  Guinn loosely bases The Resurrectionist on this disconcerting aspect of our history, and it’s both effective and chilling.

Guinn begins his tale in 1995 when disgraced doctor Jacob Thacker suffers through probation for abusing Xanax.  He has been exiled to public relations at the South Carolina Medical College when workers uncover the bones of African American slaves on campus.  Jacob is determined to find out about the college’s shadowy past, even if his dogged pursuit could jeopardize his career.

Jacob is really only a small part of Guinn’s story.  In my mind, he is a much lesser character compared to the true star of The Resurrectionist: Nemo Johnston, a rich, finely-drawn, and highly nuanced personality.

Seven doctors at the South Carolina Medical College hold legal title to him.  They are his owners; he is their slave.  One of the school’s founders, Dr. Frederick Augustus Johnston, purchased Nemo because of his impressive skills with a knife.  Nemo’s main duties, though, are to provide corpses of recently-deceased African American slaves to students.

Imagine for a moment what this existence is like for Nemo.  When Dr. Johnston bought him, Nemo took on his owner’s last name, an ordinary occurrence of the period.  More significant is the fact that Nemo changed his first name.  Previously it was Cudjo, a common African name for children born on Monday.  Cudjo said good-bye to his original name to become Nemo, which interestingly means “no man.” No man could do what he is doing and live with himself.  His responsibility weighs heavily on Nemo as he internalizes the horrors of who and what he has become—a man who robs the graves of his own kind for scientific study.  This was yet another way that slaves were degraded and demoralized.  Their bodies and their spirits were broken in life only to have their bodies mutilated after death.  To put yourself in Nemo’s place is sobering and uncomfortable.

“In Africa,” Nemo knows, “he could have expected an instant death for desecrating a grave and disturbing the spirits, and after that death, an eternity of torment from the ancestors and their demons.” Guinn offers us another stunningly terrifying awareness: Nemo has no voice.  Nemo knows that a slave is “either a creature of adaptation or just another dead body.”  He has adapted simply out of necessity.

In one of Guinn’s most incredibly powerful scenes, a student is shocked to learn the corpse he is studying is that of his mother.  Instead of producing the body of a slave, Nemo had dug up the body of a recently-deceased white woman.  Not surprisingly, there is a hue and cry.  The doctors have forgotten the slaves are human; they are all oblivious to the fact these people were once wives, mothers, daughters, husbands, fathers, and sons.  Guinn turns the lens to a striking effect.

No matter what Nemo does, no matter how he sees himself as inhuman, his actions do not truly reflect on him.  Instead, his

Matthew Guinn

Matthew Guinn lives in Jackson, MS

activities tell more about his slave owners and the school’s doctors than they do about him.  Here, Guinn illustrates Aimée Cesaire’s boomerang effect of colonialism: slavery dehumanizes civilized men.  Since racial slavery is based on and justified by contempt of the enslaved, anyone who engages in such an act is changed by it.  Slaveholders often viewed their slaves as animals and treated them as such, but such an attitude also turned slave owners into animals themselves.

In the end, Nemo reclaims his agency and seizes his place, his self-respect, and even his humanity.  And Jacob must decide what is important to him, especially when he learns of a connection to those bones in the basement.

This Southern Gothic tale fascinated, startled, and unsettled me.  By shedding light on real-life body snatcher Grandison Harris, Guinn is himself a resurrection man.

“But one folkway he could not discard. Always he brought along some piece of crockery to leave on the grave, following the ancient ritual of leaving a container nearby to catch the spirit of the departed if it was loosed.”

Did you know? Whites adopted many of these African burial practices from African American slaves.

Another fact–Africans believed that when you killed a snake, it didn’t actually die until the sun went down.  My grandmother used to always say this after she killed a snake.   Slaves brought their cultural traditions from Africa to America and passed them to whites, making it part of our shared heritage.



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More with Jonathan Odell

In a New York Times March 13 review of The Healing, author Jonathan Odell was deemed “too white” to have written such a book.  He is a white man writing about black slaves, yet he does not shy away from any subject.  The Healing is set on a Mississippi Delta cotton plantation.  Granada is born a slave, yet the mistress takes a special interest in her since her own daughter died of cholera.  Everything changes on the plantation with the arrival of Polly Shine.  She is a healer, but she is also a slave.  Polly wants Granada to be her apprentice, against the wishes of the mistress.  The acclaimed healer, though, gets her way and stirs up both blacks and whites in The Healing.  Odell creates a character-driven story in which slaves are players and not pawns.  I recommend it for fans of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Kathryn Stockett.

I recently interviewed novelist and Mississippi native Jonathan Odell, author of The Healing, for the Mobile Press-Register.  You can read the Q&A here.  The piece has been edited for length.  With the paper’s permission, I would like to share with you what did not make the paper.

JB: What was the most difficult part about writing The Healing?

 JO: Structure. I couldn’t get a handle on it. I tried writing it linearly, going from the death of Amanda Satterfield’s daughter Becky, to bringing up Granada and ending with Gran Gran and Violet. It just didn’t work. The energy, tension was all wrong. Then I tried doing it in flashbacks. That was fatally boring. Then an author friend read it and said, “You know, this is in its essence about story, and the power of story to heal. Why don’t you structure it that way, as a story told by the old woman to the young girl? I knew she was right the moment she said it. When I framed it that way, it worked beautifully. I really liked how it put Gran Gran and Granada right up next to each other, so we can see that it is also Gran Gran who has been wounded and needs healing as well as Violet.

JB: The Healing is amazing and I must ask if you received any rejection letters for your manuscript before it was ultimately given the green light?

JO: It was uniformly rejected when I sent it out in the previous linear form that I mentioned above. I waited another 2 years, discouraged, humiliated. My partner got sick of my depression and told me to get over it. He told me it was a story that needed to be told, I was the only one who could to tell it, so stop feeling sorry for myself and do my job. That’s when I chose 6 of the best writers I knew (including my partner) and gave them a draft and said, I can’t see it, why does this just lay there like a dead fish? Their feedback was not all on target, but opening myself up to the outside world like that, unfroze the book in my own mind, enabling me to see other possibilities.

When I finished the rewrite, literary agent, Marly Rusoff, bless her heart, took it right away. It was so polished by then there was no need for rewrites. Within the month Marly had sold it to Nan Talese.

JB: What is it like working with Talese?

JO: I’m still reeling from that. I’ve talked with her only once, the day she accepted the book. She called and the caller I.D. read, Random House. Trembling I picked up the phone, “Jon, this is Nan.” I don’t remember much after that, except that this literary icon had dialed my number, ON PURPOSE, to rave about something I had written.

My editor is a very talented woman named Ronit Feldman who worked closely and skillfully (and tactfully) with me to get the book ready for market. It was a fun process, and so much different than working with a small press, who had my first book out in four months. Nan bought the book in the fall of 2010, and they have used that time to ready the book, as well as the market for launch. Polly Shine has been very well served.

JB: Do you have any advice for anyone working on a first novel?

 JO: Show your work to others when you are ready, but be VERY careful whom you choose. I rely heavily on other’s impressions during the writing process. But the readers I select know the difference between telling me what they would do if they were writing this novel (not helpful); and telling me what I need to hear to write the story that I’m trying to tell (very rare). They want me to achieve my vision, not help me achieve theirs.

JB: What is your writing process like?  What would a typical day of writing be like for you?  Do you type at a computer or do you write in long-hand first?  Do you need absolute silence?  Do you ever listen to music while you write?

JO: If I’m creating from scratch, the day looks like a lot of research, reading out-of-print books for dialect and phrasing, for attitudes. And then perhaps 2 hours of writing. I’m exhausted after 2 hours of making things up.

But if I’m editing, I can go for 18 hours at a time, day after day. I love editing, probably too much. When language sings, I’m in heaven.  I listen to music without an evocative melody and without understandable words. I love Phillip Glass. Monastery choirs are nice.

Most everything I do is on laptop. No matter how brilliant, my handwriting makes my work look juvenile. That’s very discouraging to me. I look smarter on a computer screen.

JB: Another Mississippian, Jesmyn Ward, won this year’s National Book Award with her novel, Salvage the Bones.  How would you feel if your novel was nominated for any literary awards?

JO: That feels remote at this stage. I used to spend sleepless nights in bed being interviewed by Oprah. That never came to any good so I try not to do that to myself. At this point I’m at that stage of being afraid that I won’t be noticed by critics and then being afraid when they do. The book has been out [since February 21], and I’m feeling a little shell-shocked.

Odell was born and raised in Laurel, Mississippi, and now makes his home in Minnesota.  He is also the author of The View from Delphi.


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Q&A with Jonathan Odell

I interviewed author Jonathan Odell for the Mobile Press-Register.  Odell has written a new book called The Healing that is getting a lot of buzz.  It’s authentic, fresh, and well-researched.  Polly Shine is unforgettable.  To read my Q&A with Odell, please go here.   If Odell is appearing at a bookstore near you, I urge you to go meet him.  He is very friendly and loves to talk to readers.

Author Jonathan Odell


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Meeting Jesmyn Ward

On Saturday, December 17, at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, I had the honor and pleasure to meet National Book Award winner and Mississippi native Jesmyn Ward.  Ward is the author of Salvage the Bones and Where the Line Bleeds.  She is only 34 years old and is already a prestigious author.

I asked Ward how it felt to win the National Book Award.  She said she still cannot believe it.  She is still overwhelmed and keeps thinking one day she will wake up and it will all have been a dream.  There was a great crowd at Lemuria of readers who wanted to meet this remarkable young woman.  She was humble, friendly, and smiling.  She took up time with everyone, inscribing and lining her novels.

After the signing, Ward read from Salvage the Bones in Lemuria’s Dot Com Building.  Unfortunately, I could not stay to hear her, but I heard she has a wonderful speaking voice.  That’s good, because I believe Ward will win many awards; in fact, the National Book Award is just one of many for this talented young Mississippi writer.

If you have not yet picked up Salvage the Bones, I urge you to do so.  It is very real, it is heart-wrenching, it is well-written, and it is powerful.  While you’re at it, also pick up her first novel, Where the Line Bleeds.  Immerse yourself into Ward’s writing.  You will be glad you did.

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Jonathan Odell’s “The Healing” channels Toni Morrison and Alice Walker

Author Jonathan Odell writes that American slaves and their descendants “have strived and survived as a proud of community and, in spite of every adversity imaginable, infused the larger American culture with a richness like none other.”  Their story is our story, he maintains.  What a story he tells in his second novel The Healing, to be released in February 2012.  Historically accurate details and characters that seem to come to life on the page populate the book.  The African-American slaves in Odell’s world are players, not pawns; they are active, not passive, participants in the oppressive and repressive institution that was slavery.  The slaves try to forge identities for themselves and their families while slave owners do their best to suppress their attempts.  Nothing, however, can stop Odell’s Polly Shine.


Odell previously wrote The View from Delphi.  He currently lives in Minnesota but was born in Laurel, Mississippi, the hometown of this reviewer.  The Healing is very personal to him as this novel works to heal the wounds slavery, segregation, and racism have left behind.  In the author’s note to the reader, he recounts several instances of his early life in which he saw racism firsthand.  His note is very revealing and allows readers a chance to see into his mind and his heart.  In fact, I urge readers to read it first, as it will give you great insight into the author and his mindset.


Set on a cotton plantation in the Mississippi Delta, The Healing began when the twelve-year-old daughter of Benjamin and Amanda Satterfield died of cholera.  Mistress Amanda was distraught, even enraged and unstable, and took a baby from one of the Satterfield slaves to raise as her own.  The mistress renamed the baby Granada and exiled her true parents to the swamps.  Mistress Amanda dressed Granada in the clothes of her dead daughter and paraded her before friends and neighbors.  Granada loved the clothes, for the clothes made the mistress notice her: “The clothes made her more than beautiful.  They made her visible.”  The sight of Granada, an African-American slave in the clothes of a white girl, appalled the whites.  The mistress also had a pet monkey named Daniel Webster who perched on her shoulder.  Here, Odell is rather heavy-handed.  The reader is meant to compare Granada to the monkey; they are the same in the eyes of slaveholding whites.  Perhaps Odell does not think readers would fully grasp the meaning without the presence of the monkey.  Granada was just a slave, no matter how many fancy clothes she wore; she would never be the daughter of the mistress.  She merely mimicked the world of the whites, and her emulations were met with disdain.  As Granada tried to curtsy “like she had seen white women do,” the monkey pulled her hair, making her tilt to the side.  She looked to see the reaction: “The women had dropped their eyes to the floor, looking red-faced, as if they had been slapped in church….”  A man who watched her “hid his mouth behind his hand and coughed loudly.”  The man’s eyes, Granada, saw, “danced with a wicked merriment.”  Her mimicry only made Granada ridiculous, since “tying a scrap of red on a straw broom don’t make it no Christmas tree.”  This worked even without Daniel Webster, although the monkey served a purpose later in the novel.


Everything changed on the plantation with the arrival of Polly Shine, who had “bird feathers stuck out of her braids this way and that, and around her neck she wore a ponderous necklace made of gleaming white shells.”  Polly was “as skinny as a river bird, and draped over her shoulders was a mangy wrap made from the fur of some animal Granada imagined being too ugly to ever have lived.”  Odell was at his very best when he wrote her scenes.  Satterfield purchased Polly from North Carolina for the grand sum of five thousand dollars.  The other slaves speculated as to her purpose there: “She was too unsightly to be thought of as frolic in bed for the master.  She was too far past her childbearing years to multiply the stock.  Though she seemed nimble enough, it was hard to imagine her being brought all the way from North Carolina for field work.”  The reason for her presence was soon revealed:  Polly was a healer, and the master hoped she could cure his slaves of the “blacktongue,” a disfiguring and painful disease.  The master gave Polly lots of leeway.  Polly even chose Granada to be her apprentice, causing a battle of wills between the mistress and the slave.  Polly, however, emerged as the victor, leaving Granada furious and saddened.  Polly did things her own way.  Although she was a slave, she was really her own boss.  I loved her and considered her Odell’s richest, most well-developed character.  She stirred things up on the plantation so much so that nothing would be the same after her arrival for Granada, the Satterfields, or her fellow slaves. For example, Polly told Granada that Master Satterfield “can’t give you your Freedom.  The Yankees when they come can’t.  I can’t.  If you think any somebody can, then you always going to be their slave.”


Readers will appreciate the meticulous research Odell conducted for The Healing.  He combed through archives and listened to the Works Project Administration’s interviews with former slaves recorded in the 1930s.  Odell also talked to numerous descendants of former slaves.  His hard work paid off as historical accuracies abound in his novel.  Odell painted a picture of a world in which house slaves believed they were better than field hands.  That was true.  Slaves were hierarchical.  In the novel, the master had an affair with a slave named Rubina, a typical practice.  The mistress knew of her husband’s affair and hated him (and Rubina) for it.  This, too, was historically accurate.  In fact, many mistresses treated any children from such dalliances cruelly.  In The Healing, Satterfield named his slaves and this sometimes occurred.  Not all masters named their slaves, however.  Ella, Granada’s natural mother, originally gave her daughter an African name, Yewande.  In the slave south, slaves could not come and go as they pleased.  Written permission from the master was required.  Odell showed readers the same was true for Polly Shine.  Slaves also resisted slavery through rebellion.  Their resistance might be active (revolt) or passive (everyday rebellion).  Near the end of Odell’s novel, we saw Satterfield’s slaves engaging in rebellious acts against the master.  Therefore Odell gave us a story that very well might have happened, even if it was fiction.  Nothing he writes was inaccurate or not plausible.


The world of Odell’s imagining is one in which readers will want to immerse themselves.  Filled with both historical accuracy and vivid, rich, detailed characters, The Healing proves Odell is an up-and-coming author.  The Healing recalls earlier greats such as Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.  I believe Odell will receive great acclaim.  With The Healing, he will certainly put Laurel, Mississippi, on the literary map.  Oxford who?






The version I read was an Advance Reading Copy.  Thank you, Todd Doughty.


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