A Dirge Transposed

“A novel,” wrote Stendhal, “is a mirror carried along a road.”  In Cyn-thia Shearer’s new book, the road, literally speaking, is that between the invented town of Madagascar, Mississippi, where the action is centered, and Memphis, the other major setting; metaphorically, it is the distance the South has traveled from about 1950 to the early 21st century, and, more broadly, America’s current directions.  The sociological slant of the mirror Shearer holds up to nature is clear from the Cataloging-in-Publication data, which categorize the novel as dealing with Africans in Mississippi, the Delta, race relations, popular music, teenage boys, and immigrants (or, as the publishers’ publicity copy says, emigrants).

The South, always a ready topic, is familiar to Shearer; though born in Massachusetts, she was reared in Georgia and later lived in Oxford, Mississippi, where she became curator of Faulkner’s house.  Described as “burned out on Southern Literature’s [sic] tragic dirge as a representation of how we live,” she wants apparently to revivify literary tradition by denouncing again the Old South and portraying the New.  In so doing, she suggests means of redemption for the past and remedies for present ills, which include capitalists’ greed, dehumanizing urbanization, moral corruption among prosperous whites, and the destruction...

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