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Southern storyteller conjures the dead
Photograph of Ann Hite, courtesy of the author
In her haunting debut novel, Ghost on Black Mountain (Gallery Books), Ann Hite interweaves and overlaps the stories of five women whose lives are bound together by a murder in rural 1930s North Carolina. Each woman’s revelation forces a slight recalibration of the truth and gives great depth to a good old-fashioned ghost story. The spirits link history and the afterlife, dropping eerie hints—and not-so-subtle warnings—before vanishing into the woods. The author, fifty-three, lives in the Smyrna-Vinings area and learned the art of Southern Gothic storytelling the time-honored way: sitting on the porch, listening to her elders. A 2004 North Carolina getaway inspired her to write. “When I went home, the character Nellie made an appearance in my mind,” Hite says. “She spoke the first two sentences of Ghost on Black Mountain: ‘Mama warned me against marrying Hobbs Pritchard. She saw my future in her tea leaves: death.’ I couldn’t resist. I had to know, what death? And who in the world was Hobbs Pritchard?” Hite paints a loving portrait of rural mountain life in the early twentieth century, and characters are nuanced and true.
|>> INTERVIEW: Read Weaver’s conversation with Hite
Ghosts also manifest freely in the latest novel by Karen White, The Strangers on Montagu Street (New American Library). Set in Charleston, South Carolina, this novel picks up where White’s second book in her Tradd Street series left off, with psychic realtor Melanie Middleton restoring her house to its former Victorian glory and lusting after author Jack Trenholm. When Nola, a sullen teen daughter he didn’t know he had, shows up on his doorstep, Jack enlists Melanie’s help. Before long, Melanie is drawn into a goose-bumpy battle with spirits intent on pulling Nola into their world.
|>> INTERVIEW: Read Weaver’s conversation with Bottoms
We Almost Disappear, Copper Canyon Press
Georgia poet laureate David Bottoms finds inspiration almost everywhere. From his first collection, 1980’s Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump, to his latest, We Almost Disappear, the familiar becomes mystical. The title of his new book comes from a line in a poem called “Walking a Battlefield: A Love Story,” about roaming the historic fields below Kennesaw on a foggy day, “where one hand takes another as we almost disappear.” These poems are about marveling at nature, seeing children grow up and leave, and watching elderly parents fade away. “The silence around his shoulder is my mother’s arm,” Bottoms writes in a poem titled “My Father Adjusts His Hearing Aids.” A certain sadness hovers over many of these poems, but the sheer beauty of the language transcends any hint of despair about growing older. “I think it’s only natural that when you get to be sixty-two, you start thinking more about these things,” Bottoms says from his home in Cobb County.
A Marriage of Convenience, BkMk Press/University of Missouri–Kansas City
Andrew Plattner centers this whip-smart collection of stories in the world of horse racing. Jockeys, agents, gamblers, hangers-on, even dying steel towns are rendered in sharp detail: “The drive to the track took me past all the predawn silhouettes that made up Weirton, the few blocks of one-story businesses downtown, the wood-frame factory houses, then the barely breathing mill . . . I did not like it here, but the place had a way of calming me, making me glad for having chosen the life I did.” Plattner lives in Midtown and teaches at Kennesaw State University.
The Accidental Slaveowner, University of Georgia Press
Though this is a scholarly work, it offers a fascinating glimpse into a slice of Georgia history that tends to be interpreted very differently by white people and by black people. Mark Auslander, who teaches anthropology at Central Washington University, revisits the controversial story of an enslaved woman known as Miss Kitty and her owner—Methodist Bishop James Osgood Andrew, first president of Emory University’s board of trustees.