The Slow Moon–Elizabeth Cox

Cox does it again.  She grabs the reader by the poo-poo by page two and then slowly and deliciously unravels a complex tale of family and community in the context of small-town Tennessee.  The Slow Moon begins with the kind of party many American teenagers attended–someone’s parents are out of town and kids converge, the social machine greased with alcohol and whispers of drugs alongside the natural impetus of youthful sexuality.  Crow and Sophie leave the party, having predetermined that tonight is “the night.”  Sophie is adventurous and takes the lead, telling Crow to lie down on the leaves and removing her own clothes.  Nature progresses a little too far before the responsible bell goes off and Crow has to run back to his car, parked a distance from the house to fool the neighbors (who are, as always, assumed too silly to realize their neighbors’ house is full of people and noise despite the lack of cars in the driveway).  From there, it all goes wrong.  Crow dashes off in his underwear and is detained when some young women park next to his car and chat.  When he returns to Sophie, she is blooded and bruised and his response, to flee, reveals that he has not yet made it to manhood, despite the DNA evidence left in her body.

The remainder of the novel traces Crow’s experience of going to trial, Sophie’s experience of living with gang rape in the months following, and the search for the culprits as the town struggles to live with the fact that we can’t tell by looking who the good guys and who the bad guys really are.

This is a tough novel to end as a writer, I assume.  How do you end the story of coping with gang rape?  How do you end a story of betrayal that is revealed only at the end?  The slow unraveling makes the novel compelling, but leaves Cox closing with a scene a little too sweet to seem likely.  Perhaps this comes from the fact that, despite the novel’s opening with the gang rape of Sophie, she is not the main story line.  Cox’s focus is on the boys and their mothers and even Sophie’s mother.  Sophie is the narrative device around whom the story is built, which ends up putting the reader in the place of the rapists:  using Sophie to fulfill our own needs without considering her as a fully-developed person whose life will be shattered by our rough intrusions and leaves Cox wanting to reassure us that it’s all ok when she needed to do the opposite.

Finished 6/12/12

Night Talk–Elizabeth Cox

Women’s relationships have been a big theme for my reading this past year–I know, so original, right?  Elizabeth’s Cox’s Night Talk wraps the relationships between four women around the civil rights era in Georgia to highlight the way in which the personal is political and the political has to be personal.  This message seems particularly apt in an era when too many Americans feel the problems are too big and their own power too small to effect change.  Evie and Janey live in the same house and sleep in the same room, but Janey’s mother cooks and cleans and Evie’s mother pays her wages.  Evie can go inside all the stores in town; Janey cannot.  The story starts with the death of Janey’s mother and moves between past and present to illuminate how yesterday shapes today and how misundertandings can create alternate futures.

Evie’s father leaves when she is young and is largely absent from her life.  The letters she writes to him are heartbreaking in an age when divorce is so prevalent that most children probably have their own versions of these letters.  Janey’s father is gone and later we find out he was killed as a result of shady dealings.   Janey’s older brother is a war hero whose sense of racial justice was spurred by his service to his country.  His community cheers him, then murders him for not coming back the same boy who left.  Evie’s brother has polio and survives with a limp.  Janey is punished for her brother’s political activism and a rift begins between the two girls that Evie only comes to understand as all of the characters reassemble for Janey’s mother’s funeral.

Man’s inhumanity to man and particularly savage inhumanity to women broke my heart, but the love of the women in the story, Evie and Janey and their mothers, gives a sign of hope.

Finished 5/20/12