on 1 December 1999
It is hard to realise at first this book is set not in the 30s or even the 50s but much of the action goes right into the 1970s and we see a small, southern American county run like a feudal fiefdom where 'everyone knows their place.' Greene's skill is to bring the place alive without maudlin sentimentality nor with a view that evey black person was a quiet hero - though some were - and every white person was a concious and bigoted racist - though some were. She weaves the threads of the story together so the reader starts to see the shabby, frayed carpet that was society in this part of the world - largely ignored and forgotten and it is easy to expect that little has changed in the subsequent years. One of the best books I have come across on the fight for dignity out of segregation.
on 5 September 2009
Coastal Georgia is a frequent destination for me. Whenever I have to be away from it, I am planning the next time I'll be able to smell the marsh, feel the sand in my shoes and hear the musical voices of the residents. I have been to Darien many, many times, but my first visit was in 1994, long after the initial events in this book took place. Reading PRAYING FOR SHEETROCK was educational, to say the least. What Melissa Fay Greene does in her narrative is show you the different Dariens - the black experience is (or was) far different from the one enjoyed by whites in this historic community.
It is said that there are two sides to every story; in SHEETROCK, there are significantly more than that to be found. McIntosh County is a prism, and the truth is refracted through every possible angle. Greene tries not to take sides. She offers as much of a journalistic approach as possible, starting with the early 1970s and the corruption in the local government, and ending with the changes in the life of Thurnell Alston, the man who, with others in his community, stood up to the status quo.
At times, Greene's writing approaches the poetic. Her use of language is nothing less than stunning. She evokes the true beauty of this part of the world, and reminds me, even in the bleak passages, why I love it so. Few other authors I've read have been so successful in bringing the environment to mind, even when describing the mosquitos and choking dust on a dry day. Almost anyone can write a beautiful sunset; it's a truly excellent writer who can narrate a lack of plumbing and make it interesting.
PRAYING FOR SHEETROCK may not prove to be interesting to everyone who reads it. Those who have ties to the McIntosh County will get the most out of it, I believe, and others may be bored. As someone who loves Coastal Georgia, and American history, I was fascinated.