“I were in for some nails. I were looking in the barrel, and sorting them out and in he comes, in comes your father, not going round back like he must have known, like he did know, he should have done. He comes in and lets the screen door bang closed…” Three simple sentences, depicting an action and its consequent implications, begin this story of racism spinning out of control.
A white person tries to defend the black man who violated the racial rules in Tennessee in the early twentieth century. The black man is murdered and the white man, who remains unnamed throughout the novel, is literally branded. During his recovery he meets the son of the murdered man, and both are almost propelled to a devastating revenge that will force them to flee as hunted men.
While this story is all too common in American history, what is of singular note in this novel involves the cycle of misunderstandings occurring on all sides. For who can explain the reactions of a grief-stricken African-American boy, a white person who dares to break the acceptable social code of his culture, the fierce, almost primitive stalking two white brothers tirelessly follow, as well as the empathy of an investigator who may be too late to end the path of fury bound to resolution by all concerned? Think of Faulkner, Richard Wright, and more recently, Joyce Carol Oates when you plan on reading this intense but oh so necessary story. For, the author implies, we must never forget the tragedy emanating from those who would deny any person’s “civil rights.”