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125 Berry Morgan—does anyone in the reading community recognize that name? But though now nearly lost to the world of letters, she once conducted a flourishing career. In 1966 Houghton Mifflin published her novel, Pursuit, and awarded her a Literary Fellowship for it. Walker Percy called her “the most exciting novelist to come out of the South since Flannery O’Connor.” During the next two decades Morgan published twenty-five stories in the New Yorker. Many appeared in her 1974 collection, The Mystic Adventures of Roxie Stoner. After Robert Gottlieb replaced William Shawn as editor of the New Yorker, in 1987, Morgan’s work ceased to appear in that magazine—or anywhere else, for that matter. She died in 2002, in a nursing home, still writing. The Mystic Adventures of Roxie Stoner is a book of what we now call linked stories. The link of place is a small Southern town, and the link of character is a woman who seems to have nothing in common with her creator. Roxie is black, poor, uneducated, and without husband or children. She scrutinizes the world around her with naive sympathy . Berry Morgan was white, wealthy, educated, married (and then divorced), and a mother of four. She scrutinized the world around her with such acuity that in her prose she could enter the lives and feelings of poor blacks without condescension, could reproduce thoughts RECLAMATION [ [ ] ] Borrowing Life: Berry Morgan’s “The Hill” Edith Pearlman 126 ecotone and conversation without recourse to dialect. Instead she employs long but grammatical sentences which avoid both the faux biblicality of a string of ands and overcomplicated clauses. Of one character Morgan writes, “He had a gray-brown face with features that matched each other perfectly, especially the lips, which fitted together to give a look of peace.” She attends to prepositions and their placement (people talk on something rather than about it; after childbirth there was not too much of blood; I couldn’t help answering up). She selects a few telling words like catawampous (it means “evil”) and apt (it means “skilled,” in Roxie’s vocabulary) and bewilderments. Among the apt stories in The Mystic Adventures of Roxie Stoner lurks a masterpiece, “The Hill.” “The Hill” creates an alliance—a fusion, even—between reader and tale rarely accomplished since Chekhov. It is a frame story—Roxie narrates someone else’s tale. In this particular mystic adventure, Roxie is not identified, nor is her background exposed; we know only that she makes her home in “the nerve hospital .” Her anonymity is initially a source of bewilderment, but the story within the story soon grabs our attention. Another inmate, Miss Bertha, has been maddened by some occurrence. She is rapidly recalling its details , over and over again, and the exhausted staff at the nerve hospital has tied her to her bed. Roxie, having been locked up with Miss Bertha in her room, strokes the woman’s feet—dry and hard—asking her to slow down and tell her history from the beginning; and she does. Miss Bertha’s story begins with a transgression. She has been left a small house on a hill by her God-fearing father, who instructed her never to leave that hill except to go to church. The hill, with its chickens and its little farm, will support her forever. Softly and gradually Miss Bertha disobeys her orders, until there is a seduction, a pregnancy, and an abandonment. A tiny cursing tobacco-spitting midwife—a character made permanently memorable in three sentences—climbs the hill to deliver “the new soul,” a daughter, and is then dispatched by the new mother, who determines to live forever sinless with her daughter and her animals. But she cannot. She sells produce from the little farm; she also robs a sow of two newborn hogs and starts selling fatback, though to do so is illegal. And in a transgression that combines theft and sex, she takes her blind cow out at night and mates it to a blooded bull in a nearby 127 edith pearlman plantation. A heifer results, and an abundance of milk to sell (also illegally ). So mother and daughter thrive, more or less. Two...


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