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In these stories, Dianne Nelson illuminates that vast territory of pleasure and pain created within modern families. Whether it is a father trying to kidnap his young son from his estranged ex-wife or a woman celebrating her ability to produce babies without any help from men, Nelson's characters reveal the dark, haunting and sometimes comic dilemmas of kinship.
In the title story, seventeen-year-old April is an involuntary witness to the seemingly endless parade of lovers who frequent her mother's bed. "I don't know why my mother finds no lasting peace" she muses. Opening a book and trying to find her peace in "facts, dates, the pure honesty of numbers," April is overwhelmed finally by the sounds of lovemaking from the adjoining room. "The walls of this house aren't thick enough to keep that kind of sadness contained." In "The Uses of Memory," Netta and Carlene are engaged in a different sort of mother-daughter drama. The issue at hand is the fate of Franklin, their husband and father, who lies in bed in a near comatose state, oblivious to the nurturings or pleadings of either woman.
The past, with its countless repercussion on the present, tugs relentlessly at many of the characters. In "Chocolate," the lingering pain of an impoverished childhood plagues Janice; she recalls, in particular, the birthday and Christmas celebrations, the meager gifts wrapped in the same brown twine that was used to hold the door shut. Hillary, the narrator of "Dixon," is spurred into action by the memory of her dead brother. When a local barfly with "silt for brains" persists in telling outlandish lies about Dixon, Hillary takes up karate training with an eye to defending her brother's name the truth of what she knew him to be. Dee, in "Paperweight," can pinpoint the exact moment at which she came to think of the body as an earthbound trap, "a hopeless house with the doors all locked"; she traces it back to a grade-school theatrical performance and a classmate's luckless efforts to open the cumbersome stage curtains. "If it weren't for my body," she laments, "I could fly, I could go anywhere, I could be anything."
Ranging in setting from a restaurant in St. Louis to the rain-soaked streets of San Francisco, from a boisterous family reunion beneath the broad Kansas sky to a ranch in Utah where a young father dreams of becoming a movie star, these fifteen stories show men and women pondering--and often struggling against--the mysteries of their own circumstances, especially the bonds of flesh and blood.
Cobb begins by looking at how our historical understanding of segregation has evolved since the Brown decision. In particular, he targets the tenacious misconception that racial discrimination was at odds with economic modernization--and so would have faded out, on its own, under market pressures. He then looks at the argument that Brown energized white resistance more than it fomented civil rights progress. This position overstates the pace and extent of racial change in the South prior to Brown, Cobb says, while it understates Brown’s role in catalyzing and legitimizing subsequent black protest.
Finally, Cobb suggests that the Brown decree and the civil rights movement accomplished not only more than certain critics have acknowledged but also more than the hard statistics of black progress can reveal. The destruction of Jim Crow, with its denial of belonging,” allowed African Americans to embrace their identity as southerners in ways that freed them to explore links between their southernness and their blackness. This is an important and timely reminder of what the Brown court and the activists who took the spirit of its ruling into the streets were up against, both historically and contemporaneously.”
Histories of a Hurricane
Thirty-six years before Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and southern Mississippi, the region was visited by one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to hit the United States: Camille.
Mark M. Smith offers three highly original histories of the storm’s impact in southern Mississippi. In the first essay Smith examines the sensory experience and impact of the hurricane—how the storm rearranged and challenged residents’ senses of smell, sight, sound, touch, and taste. The second essay explains the way key federal officials linked the question of hurricane relief and the desegregation of Mississippi’s public schools. Smith concludes by considering the political economy of short- and long-term disaster recovery, returning to issues of race and class.
Camille, 1969 offers stories of survival and experience, of the tenacity of social justice in the face of a natural disaster, and of how recovery from Camille worked for some but did not work for others. Throughout these essays are lessons about how we might learn from the past in planning for recovery from natural disasters in the future.
Carkeet uproariously recaptures his stunned, youthful reaction to the novel's sleazy take on his hometown. The innocent nowhere burg where he despaired of ever getting any "action" became, in the pages of Campus Sexpot, a sink of iniquity echoing with "animal cries of delight." Blood pounded, dams of passion broke, and marriages and careers--not to mention the basics of good writing--went straight to hell.
As Carkeet relates his own romantic fumblings to the novel's clumsy twists and turns, he also evokes the urgently hushed atmosphere in which the book circulated among friends and neighbors. Eventually, Carkeet stumbles into adulthood, where he discovers a truer definition of manhood than the one in the pages of the pulp fiction of his youth. A wry look at middle-class sexual mores and a witty appreciation of the art of the hack novel, Carkeet's memoir is, above all, a poignant and hilarious coming-of-age story sure to revive our own bittersweet teenage memories.
This edition of Canada and the United States has been extensively rewritten and updated throughout to reflect new scholarly arguments, emphases, and discoveries. In addition, there is new material on such topics as energy, the environment, cultural and economic integration, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, border security, missile defense, and the second administration of George W. Bush.
The Masculine and Morrison
The book also considers the barriers between black men and women thrown up by their participation in a larger, historically racist culture of competition, ownership, sexual repression, and fixed ideals about physical beauty and romantic love. Black women, Morrison says, bear their crosses extremely well,” and black men, although they have been routinely emasculated by white men, period,” have managed to maintain a feisty magic” that everybody wants but nobody else has.
Understanding Morrison's treatment of her male characters, says Susan Mayberry, becomes crucial to grasping her success in countering the damage done by a spectrum of sometimes misguided isms”--including white American feminism. Morrison's version of masculinity suggests that black men have successfully retained their special vitality in spite of white male resistance” and that their connections to black women have saved their lives.” To single out her men is not to negate the preeminence of her women; rather, it is to recognize the interconnectedness and balance between them.
The Japanese Internment of American Civilians in the Philippines, 1941-1945
Supported by diaries, memoirs, war crimes transcripts, Japanese soldiers' accounts, medical data, and many other sources, Captured presents a detailed and moving chronicle of the internees' efforts to survive. Cogan compares living conditions within the internment camps with life in POW camps and with the living conditions of Japanese soldiers late in the war. An afterword discusses the experiences of internment survivors after the war, combining medical and legal statistics with personal anecdotes to create a testament to the thousands of Americans whose captivity haunted them long after the war ended.
The nine stories of CAUTION Men in Trees capture the pressure, need, and frequent helplessness of people confronted with intractable reality. As suggested by the collection's epigraph from Superman—"Did you say kryptonite?"—the characters in these stories have reached a point where they realize that parts of their lives are coming undone, and that their own thoughts and actions—or, frequently, the failure to act soon enough—are the cause. Though settings and situations vary, the same sense of overwhelming urgency recurs throughout the collection. The stories reflect a world distressed by conflict and settings fraught with the occurrences of personal violence.
Against the background of the O. J. Simpson trial, a man refuses to assist in a friend's suicide and realizes that he has been avoiding many unpleasant truths about himself and his life. A son faced with his father's debilitating stroke sees that he must ultimately confront the mortality and feelings of grief that he has been concealing. In the title story, the film Bugsy and talk about the disappointing reality of pop-culture heroes set the scene for a husband's frightening confrontation with his own limitations. The shock of stark revelation combines with tightly wound chains of suggestive events to create a collection of gripping, edgy stories about characters who, however battered, survive.
Celia was only fourteen years old when she was acquired by John Newsom, an aging widower and one of the most prosperous and respected citizens of Callaway County, Missouri. The pattern of sexual abuse that would mark their entire relationship began almost immediately. After purchasing Celia in a neighboring county, Newsom raped her on the journey back to his farm. He then established her in a small cabin near his house and visited her regularly (most likely with the knowledge of the son and two daughters who lived with him). Over the next five years, Celia bore Newsom two children; meanwhile, she became involved with a slave named George and resolved at his insistence to end the relationship with her master. When Newsom refused, Celia one night struck him fatally with a club and disposed of his body in her fireplace.
Her act quickly discovered, Celia was brought to trial. She received a surprisingly vigorous defense from her court-appointed attorneys, who built their case on a state law allowing women the use of deadly force to defend their honor. Nevertheless, the court upheld the tenets of a white social order that wielded almost total control over the lives of slaves. Celia was found guilty and hanged.
Melton A. McLaurin uses Celia's story to reveal the tensions that strained the fabric of antebellum southern society. Celia's case demonstrates how one master's abuse of power over a single slave forced whites to make moral decisions about the nature of slavery. McLaurin focuses sharply on the role of gender, exploring the degree to which female slaves were sexually exploited, the conditions that often prevented white women from stopping such abuse, and the inability of male slaves to defend slave women. Setting the case in the context of the 1850s slavery debates, he also probes the manner in which the legal system was used to justify slavery. By granting slaves certain statutory rights (which were usually rendered meaningless by the customary prerogatives of masters), southerners could argue that they observed moral restraint in the operations of their peculiar institution.
An important addition to our understanding of the pre-Civil War era, Celia, A Slave is also an intensely compelling narrative of one woman pushed beyond the limits of her endurance by a system that denied her humanity at the most basic level.
Gender and Periodization
Beyond the focus of feminist challenges to American literary periodization, this volume also studies issues of a need for literary reforms considering differences in race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality. The essays are valuable and informative as individual critical studies of specific writers and their works. Challenging Boundaries presents intelligent, original, well-written, and practical arguments in support of long-awaited changes in American literary scholarship and is a milestone of feminist literary study.