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All the Governor's Men

A Mountain Brook Novel

Katherine Clark

It’s the summer of George Wallace’s last run for governor of Alabama in 1982, and the state is at a crossroads. In Katherine Clark’s All the Governor’s Men, a political comedy of manners that reimagines Wallace’s last campaign, voters face a clear choice between the infamous segregationist, now a crippled old man in a wheelchair, and his primary opponent, Aaron Osgood, a progressive young candidate poised to liberate the state from its George Wallace–poisoned past. Daniel Dobbs, a twenty one-year-old Harvard graduate and South Alabama native, is one of many young people who have joined the campaign representing hope and change for a downtrodden Alabama. A political animal himself, Daniel possesses so much charm and charisma that he was nicknamed “the Governor” in college. Nowhe is engaged in the struggle to conquer once and for all the malignant man Alabamians have traditionally called “the Governor.” This historic election isn’t the only thing Daniel wants to win. During his senior year, he fell in love with a freshman girl from Mountain Brook, the “Tiny Kingdom” of wealth and privilege, a world apart from his own Alabama origins. A small-town country boy, Daniel desperately wants to gain the favor of his girlfriend’s family along with her mentor, the larger-than-life English teacher Norman Laney. Daniel also wants to keep one or two ex-girlfriends firmly out of the picture. In the course of his summer, he must untangle his complicated personal life, satisfy the middle-class dreams of his parents for their Harvard-educated son, decide whether to enter law school or launch his own political career, and, incidentally, help his candidate defeat George Wallace, in a close and increasingly dirty race. All the Governor’s Men is a darkly comic look at both the political process in general and a significant political chapter in Alabama history. This second novel in Katherine Clark’s Mountain Brook series depicts the social and political landscape of an Alabama world that is at once a place like no other and at the same time, a place like all others.

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By the Red Glare

A Novel

John Mark Sibley-Jones

Fear and brutality grip Columbia, South Carolina, in the harsh winter of 1865 as General William Tecumseh Sherman continues his fiery march to the sea and advances on the capital city where secession began. John Mark Sibley-Jones’s By the Red Glare takes us into the lives of representative citizens—black and white, men and women, Confederates and Unionists, civilians and combatants, freed and shackled, sane and insane—on the eve of historic destruction. The Columbia hospital is overcrowded with wounded soldiers from both sides. As word of Sherman’s advance spreads, old animosities threaten an outbreak of violence in this place of healing. Less than two miles from the hospital stands the Lunatic Asylum, whose yard is occupied by more than twelve hundred federal prisoners guarded by old men and boys too young to join the Confederate army. The most violent madman in the asylum hatches an escape plan that requires the aid of prisoners who, knowing they cannot trust him, nevertheless will risk their lives to gain freedom. In the heart of the city, Confederate leaders gather around a table in the home of General James Chesnut to study a tattered map and plan a battle strategy, only to stare at one another in disbelief as the first sound of cannon fire announces the imminent arrival of Sherman’s troops. Sibley-Jones’s riveting story of the collapse of the Confederacy includes a cast of memorable characters: General Wade Hampton, stoic but fierce in his rage; Mary Boykin Chesnut, brilliant but suffering from bipolar disorder, who records the events of the war with eerie devotion; Louisa Cheves McCord, who maintains that slavery is God’s will and who promises to do all in her power to abet the war that took the life of her only son; a slave who vows to kill the man who beat him mercilessly at the whipping post in the town center; two sworn-enemy soldiers who must assist each other in their jaunts to the brothel district at the city’s edge; and Joseph Crawford, the hospital steward troubled by his own shifting allegiances as he wonders whether these are the end of days. Rife with literary and historical merits, By the Red Glare is published on the eve of the sesquicentennial of the burning of Columbia, as monumental an episode in Civil War history as any other in the lore-soaked South. The novel includes a foreword by historian Marion B. Lucas, author of Sherman and the Burning of Columbia.

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The Cage-maker

A Novel

Nicole Seitz

Bringing the New Orleans of the late 1800s and early 1900s vividly to life, Nicole Seitz’s latest novel unfolds as a series of letters, journal entries, and newspaper articles discovered in the secret compartment of an enormous and exquisitely detailed birdcage that Trish, a twenty-first-century blogger, has inherited from a heretofore unknown relative. As she peruses the documents, Trish finds herself irresistibly drawn into the history of her family—a tale that is, as one letter puts it, “part love story and part horror and madness.” In 1906 Dr. René Le Monnier is ready to retire after a lengthy career as the New Orleans coroner and physician for the insane asylum. Still mourning his wife’s death, the Civil War veteran wants nothing more than finally to write his account of the Battle of Shiloh. But when a sixteen-year-old girl, Carmelite Kurucar, enlists his aid in saving her brother from a death sentence, the good doctor has to reckon with old ghosts and dusty, long-forgotten files—in particular the case of a patient to whom he may not have given sufficient treatment and consideration. Le Monnier’s efforts to help Carmelite lead him to Bertrand Saloy, one of the richest men in all New Orleans; to the Le Monnier mansion, which still haunts him; and down a dark family lineage “cursed” by a succession of wealth. Amid the mysteries and suspenseful intrigue, a French birdcage maker’s obsessive love for Madame Saloy emerges at the heart of the story. Based in part on real people and events and featuring illustrations by the author, this engrossing epistolary novel offers fresh twists on the Southern Gothic genre. It reveals much about criminal justice, about early-twentieth-century notions of care for the mentally ill, and, most important, about the many ways in which the weight of history hangs over the present from one generation to the next.

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The Cigar Factory

A Novel of Charleston

Michele Moore

“The sun leaned for down bringing shade to the waterfront,” begins Michele Moore’s entrancing debut novel, harkening back to an era when the legendary fishermen of Charleston’s Mosquito Fleet rowed miles offshore for their daily catch. With evocative dialect and remarkable prose, The Cigar Factory tells the story of two entwined families, both devout Catholics—the white McGonegals and the African American Ravenels—in the storied port city of Charleston, South Carolina, during the World Wars. Moore’s novel follows the parallel lives of family matriarchs working on segregated floors of the massive Charleston cigar factory, where white and black workers remain divided and misinformed about the duties and treatment received by each other. Cassie McGonegal and herniece Brigid work upstairs in the factory rolling cigars by hand. Meliah Amey Ravenel works in the basement, where she stems the tobacco. While both white and black workers suffer in the harsh working conditions of the factory and both endure the sexual harassment of the foremen, segregation keeps them from recognizing their common plight until the Tobacco Workers Strike of 1945. Through the experience of a brutal picket line, the two women come to realize how much they stand to gain by joining forces, creating a powerful moment in labor history that gives rise to the Civil Rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.” Moore’s extensive historical research included interviews with her own family members who worked at the cigar factory, adding a layer of nuance and authenticity to her empowering story of families and friendships forged through struggle, loss, and redemption. The Cigar Factory includes a foreword by New York Times best-selling author and Story River Books editor at large Pat Conroy.

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A Clear View of the Southern Sky

Stories

Mary Hood

A Clear View of the Southern Sky reveals women in the twenty-first century doing what women have always done in pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. In each of the ten tales from southern storyteller Mary Hood, women have come—by circumstances and choice—to the very edge of their known worlds. Some find courage to winnow and move on; others seek the patience to risk and to stay. Along the way hearts, bonds, speed limits, fingernails, and the Ten Commandments get broken. Dust settles, but these women do not. In the title story, a satellite dish company promises that happiness—or at least access to its programming—requires just a TV and a clear view of the southern sky. The short story itself reveals the journey of a Hispanic woman whose mission is to assassinate a mass murderer, an agenda triggered by post-traumatic stress wrought by seeing the murderer’s cynical grin on a news program. We follow her into the shadow of an enormous satellite dish on a roof across the street from the courthouse and ultimately into a women’s prison English-as-Second-Language class where she must confront her life. She has slept but never dreamed, and now she wakes . . . In other stories Hood introduces us to a kindergarten teacher, stunned by a student’s blurted-out question, as she discovers her deepest vocation and the mystery of its source. We meet a widow who befriends a young neighbor, only to realize they must keep secrets from each other and hold fast to their hope. A woman trucker discovers the depth of her love as she imagines her cell phone calls—and her sweetheart’s own messages—winging their way, tower to tower, along her interstate route. Two stories deal with one man and two of his wives and how they learn the lessons only love can teach about the reach and limitations of ownership and forever. The collection concludes with the novella “Seambusters,” in which a diverse cast of women workers in a rural Georgia mill sew camouflage for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. The women are part of a larger purpose, and they know it. When the shadow of death passes over the factory, each woman and the entire community find out what it really means to have American Pride. New York Times best-selling writer and Story River Books editor at large Pat Conroy provides a foreword to the collection.

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The Ex-suicide

A Mountain Brook Novel

Katherine Clark

The Ex-Suicide, Katherine Clark’s fourth Mountain Brook novel, is a satirical comedy of manners about a prominent Alabama family living across the street from the Birmingham Country Club. The house happens to be where the writer Walker Percy lived as a child with his family until his father committed suicide in the attic with a shotgun. The only son of the current residents, Hamilton “Ham” Whitmire has several Ivy League degrees as well as a generous trust fund but is striving mainly to be an “ex-suicide,” as defined by Percy’s writings. As a result of Ham’s intellectual aspirations and philosophical principles, and thanks to his trust fund, he has succeeded only in figuring out what he does not want to do with his life. Unfortunately this comprises just about all known occupations, but especially any involving the family business, which his imperious, society-matron mother insists he take over from his aging father. When the novel opens, the thirty-seven-year-old son has recently returned to his hometown and taken a teaching position at a historically black college in the “other” Birmingham―not the one where he grew up. As an anxiety-ridden, panic-attack-prone depressive in a perpetual state of existential crisis, Ham must plan carefully how to get through each day without putting his life in the hands of the mental-health-care professionals. But, according to his mother, he must also take over the reins of the family business, get married, and carry on the family name. Ham isn’t in Birmingham long before he learns his college is also in an existential crisis and fighting to keep its doors open. Even worse, circumstances force him to take at least an interest in the family business. While seeking refuge and stability in the waiting room of his therapist’s office, he finds himself in the emotional thrall of a beautiful old flame who is in the midst of a devastating divorce. She is anxious to have Ham back in her life, at least as an escort, but probably more. Will Ham buckle under all the pressures―as Percy’s father famously did in the attic of what is now his parents’ home? Or will he be able to pull himself together and live up to society’s (and his mother’s) expectations? Fortunately Ham is one of Norman Laney’s former pupils, and Laney never gives up on a student. In the midst of Ham’s crisis, Laney steps into the breach in hopes that Ham chooses life as an ex-suicide.

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Famous all over Town

A Novel

Bernie Schein

Novelist Walker Percy once said that the only remaining unexplored territory in southern literature was the Jewish southerner. Famous all over Town, the first novel from southern storyteller Bernie Schein, stakes a claim on Percy’s unexplored terrain with a comically candid multigenerational account of two Jews, a lowcountry native and a northern transplant, at the epicenter of momentous events in the sleepy southern coastal hamlet of Somerset, a fictitious stand-in for Schein’s native Beaufort, South Carolina. Schein’s diverse and memorable cast includes southern Jewish lawyer Murray Gold and his foil, displaced New York psychiatrist Bert Levy; emotionally scarred USMC drill sergeant Jack McGowan and his alluring and unconventional wife, Mary Beth; corrupt and adulterous sheriff Hoke Cooley, his deeply conservative wife, Regina, and their violent son, Boonie; African American madam and later city councilwoman Lila Trulove (also Hoke’s mistress), her brilliant daughter, Elizabeth, and her conflicted Harvard-bound son, Driver; fallen southern belle turned voice of a generation Arlanne Palmer; remorseful Vietnam veteran and flamboyant transvestite Royal Cunningham; and inspirational schoolteacher Pat Conroy. Famous all over Town also uses its web of interconnected storylines to make its setting, the eponymous town itself, a central character with a personality and an arc as complete as that of any other member of the deftly rendered cast. Delving beneath the surface of the southern status quo, Schein’s tale follows these interconnected lives through the private and public upheavals in small-town life from the turbulent 1960s to the eve of the new millennium, confronting the ramifications of the civil rights era, Vietnam, Watergate, and—closer to home—a deadly version of the infamous Ribbon Creek incident. Somerset’s colorful citizens also confront their own repressed memories, conflicted identities, burgeoning ambitions, and romantic entanglements. Even as events unfold to often-uproarious effect, Schein’s novel holds true to a deeply realized sense of intimacy and authenticity in the interactions of its myriad characters as revelations expose how these disparate lives are conjoined in surprising ways. Shifting points of view place readers squarely in the mindsets of many of Somerset’s key citizens as Schein lovingly and laughingly invites us to reconsider what it means in the modern south to be white, black, Jewish, Christian, military, civilian, sane, insane, old, young, male, female, gay, and straight—and to be of a place rather than merely in it. Best-selling southern novelist and self-described “Florida cracker” Janis Owens, author of American Ghost, The Cracker Kitchen, and other books, provides a foreword.

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Fate Moreland's Widow

A Novel

John Lane

On a placid Blue Ridge mountain lake on Labor Day Weekend in 1935, three locals sightseeing in an overloaded boat drown, and the cotton mill scion who owns the lake is indicted for their murders. Decades later Ben Crocker--witness to and reluctant participant in the aftermath of this long-forgotten tragedy--is drawn once more into the morally ambiguous world of mill fortunes and foothills justice. The son of mill workers in Carlton, South Carolina, Crocker is caught between competing loyalties to his family and future. Crocker wanted more than a rough-hewn life on a factory floor, so he studied accounting at the local textile institute and was hired as bookkeeper to the owner, George McCane, a man as burdened by his familial ties as Crocker and even less prepared for the authority of his mantel. McCane's decision to renovate the Carlton Mill and lay off families connected to the Uprising of '34, one of the largest labor strikes in U.S. history, puts Crocker in the ill-fitting position as his boss's enforcer. Days after the evictions, the surprise indictment lands McCane in a North Carolina mountain jail and sinks Crocker even deeper into the escalating tensions between mill workers and the owners. While traversing mountain communities in McCane's defense, Crocker must also manage the forced renovation of the Carlton Mill, negotiate with labor organizers led by local hero Olin Campbell, collaborate with McCane's besotted brother, Angus, and fend off his father's and wife's skepticism of his own social aspirations. Hanging distractingly over Crocker's upended life is his burgeoning infatuation with Novie Moreland--the young widow of one of those McCane is accused of killing. Though unrequited, Croker's relationship with Novie proves to be a beacon of hope amid the shadows of political and social machinations in the darkest chapter in his long life. As the union retaliates and the McCane murder trial is settled, it is uncertain who the winners and losers have been in this generational clash of workers and owners, labor and capital, those tied to the land and its people and those who exploit both. When Crocker looks back from 1988 at these two crucial years in his life in the mid-1930s, he is left to wonder if he did right by himself and those closest to him. Against all better judgment, Crocker knows he must seek out Novie Moreland once more if he is ever to find closure with the past.

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The Harvard Bride

A Mountain Brook Novel

Katherine Clark

Katherine Clark’s The Harvard Bride begins with the lavish Mountain Brook wedding of Daniel Dobbs and Caroline Elmore, college sweethearts introduced in Clark’s second novel, All the Governor’s Men. Picking up where the previous novel ended, The Harvard Bride is a wry comedy of manners and portrait of a marriage unfolding against the backdrop of the return of native southerners, with their newly completed Ivy League educations, to the self-contained world of Mountain Brook’s “Tiny Kingdom.” As a newlywed Caroline struggles to find her bearings—unwilling to join the Junior League, look for a first house, contemplate motherhood, or even finish her thank-you notes. Even worse, she can’t manage to fulfill her calling as a writer or accomplish anything else worthy of her Harvard degree. Meanwhile, Daniel’s career as a first-year associate at a powerful law firm is going so well she hardly sees him. The most exciting aspect of the new bride’s life is her handsome next-door neighbor, a writer himself and seemingly a kindred spirit. The reappearance of an old school friend—a southern belle bombshell in hot pursuit of all eligible bachelors and potential real estate clients—only adds to Caroline’s problems. In her desperation to forge an identity wholly her own, Caroline accepts an unexpected job offer from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, forty-five minutes away from home. But just when she thinks she has succeeded in putting her personal and professional life together, her fragile new existence falls inexplicably apart. Also featuring the return of larger-than-life Brook-Haven headmaster Norman Laney, The Harvard Bride is at once a social satire and a richly nuanced love story. Caroline’s journey of self-discovery takes readers from the jeweled heart of Mountain Brook and Bama’s sorority row, into James Agee’s Hale County—from the inner sanctums of southern belles into the Deep South rural farmland, where slaves and sharecroppers once toiled. In the South the past often contains the keys to understanding the present and inspiring a better future. As Caroline travels into the heart of the Alabama darkness from which she came, she suddenly comes face to face with what she needs to build a life on her own terms in her native land, if she can summon the courage to make a difficult choice and take a huge risk.

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The Headmaster's Darlings

A Mountain Brook Novel

Katherine Clark

The Headmaster's Darlings is a satirical comedy of manners featuring the morbidly obese Norman Laney, an unorthodox, inspirational English teacher and college counselor for an elite private school in Mountain Brook, a privileged community outside of Birmingham. A natural wonder from blue-collar Alabama, Laney has barged into the exclusive world of Mountain Brook on the strength of his sensational figure and its several-hundred-pound commitment to art and culture. His mission is to defeat "the barbarians," introduce true civilization in place of its thin veneer, and change his southern world for the better. Although Laney is adored by his students (his "darlings") and by the society ladies (also his "darlings") who rely on him to be the life of their parties and the leader of their book clubs, there are others who think he is a larger-than-life menace to the comfortable status quo of Mountain Brook society and must be banished. When Laney is summoned to the principal's office one day in November 1983, he expects to be congratulated for a recent public-relations triumph he engineered on behalf of the school. Instead his letter of resignation is demanded with no explanation given. Faced with an ultimatum and his imminent dismissal, Laney must outflank the principal at his own underhanded game, find out who said what about him and why, and launch his current crop of Alabama students into the wider world--or at least into Ivy League colleges. In her debut novel, Katherine Clark casts a comical eye on southern society and celebrates the power of great teachers and schools to transform the lives of young people and lift up their communities. Surrounded by a colorful cast of his colleagues, his young protégés and Mountain Brook's upper echelon, Laney emerges as a heroically idiosyncratic character with Falstaffian appetites, an inimitable wit and intellect, and a boundless generosity toward his students that reshapes their lives in profound, unexpected ways.

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