“It seemed as if the things I’d witnessed—Brad and Brenda, those bullies, trying to pick a fight at the drugstore sit-in, the fear seizing the grownups’ faces, Lamar Scurlock’s scrawny hand slapping Aubrey—all that ugliness was seared into the horse.”
In the spring of 1964, Etta McDaniel’s horse is struck by lightning on the family’s South Carolina tobacco farm. Knocked unconscious, Troy miraculously survives, his left eye blind and his left side seared, a living testament to life after death, a “hant horse” reminiscent of the spirits that haunt Cleo, the family’s African American housemaid and Etta’s constant companion.
A bright girl who aspires to become an archeologist, eleven-year-old Etta has long searched for buried treasure and artifacts. But the lightning strike that turned Troy’s eye inward seems to catalyze Etta’s coming-of-age as she too begins to see things differently: she comes to realize, for instance, that the young people who work on her family’s farm are forbidden to order a Coke at the drugstore counter; she learns that her family had long ago committed deeds she now sees as abhorrent; and as her awareness of the Civil Rights Movement grows, her friendship with an activist—the widow of a Mohawk chief, an old woman deemed “a strange bird”—brings her face to face with the Ku Klux Klan.
Some of our greatest novelists are poets, writers with the eye and the ear—and the chops—to summon the precise image to convey place, era, character, and import; to meld that image with sensation and emotion; and to translate this amalgam into metaphor that sears the reader with story. I did not have to read Ashley Mace Havird’s bio to know that she was one such writer. Her award-winning debut novel, Lightningstruck, is highly recommended.