“Life is a wonderful thing to talk about, or to read about in history books — but it is terrible when one has to live it.”
— Jean Anouilh, French playwright (1910-87)
Home across the Road, by Nancy Peacock (Bantam, 1999)
Nancy Peacock’s dense book untangles the heavy truth of Anouilh’s quote. Home across the Road centers around China Redd, an aging black woman, descendant of slaves, who recalls throughout the novel the lives of her forebears and their owners over a period of roughly a century. The front flap of the book displays the family trees of the white Redds and black Redds — for which this reader, at least, was grateful. I found myself going back to them more than once to remember who was who — for Ms. Peacock not only refers frequently to members of both families, but does so via a rapid series of flashbacks featuring multiple points of view. And there’s a heap of Redds — both black and white — to keep track of.
The author’s storytelling style can be annoying and confusing — shifting time lines, motifs that surface a little too frequently for true effectiveness. But I was also very much connected to her characters. Peacock’s writing is not without grace — much in the style of, say, Kaye Gibbons, another North Carolina writer. And, too, there’s a bit of Faulkner lurking in the shadows in this unflattering portrait of the old Southern aristocracy.
This is a story as much about place — Chatham County, North Carolina — as about people. The decline of the Roseberry house parallels the decline of its owners, while the title of the book is a reference to China Redd’s home. China, near last in a line of caretakers of the white Redds, has grown to resent the history of her people and those who held them in bondage — the master who sold beloved children and came to the slave cabins at night, sending away the husband so he could lie with the wife. In Peacock’s hands, it all rings true — and a pitiful truth it is.
The book has gained high praise from The New York Times Book Review, among other worthy publications. But Peacock has also been criticized: There’s always plenty of disapproval to go around when a white woman writes a story with a black protagonist. Ironically, I felt the author’s main strength was her well-shaped, believable characters. Somewhat biblical in fashion, the book is not an easy read — but then, maybe no book worthy of great effort should be.
Nancy Peacock lives in Chapel Hill. She appears Sunday, March 11 at Malaprop’s at 3 p.m. to read from and sign copies of her novel. Call 254-6734 for more information.
The Black Mountain Center for the Arts begins a new series of writing classes: “Creative Non-Fiction,” with Marie Maher, and “Pop Fiction: Writing for Love and Money,” with Jill Jones, start Tuesday, March 13; “Creative Writing,” with Bill Brooks, starts Saturday, March 17. To register or for more information, call (828) 669-0930.
Thursday, March 8, Malaprop’s: Malaprop’s Poetry Book Club, hosted by Marcella Mulhollem, meets in the cafe to discuss selected poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay. 6:30 p.m.
Friday, March 9, Malaprop’s: Rize Cole performs poetry featured in her new CD, Voices Rizing. Poet Glenis Redmond hosts. 7 p.m.
Friday, March 9, Talespinner Books in Black Mountain: Jill Jones signs copies of her latest novel, Remember Your Lies. 5 p.m. (828) 669-9981.
Saturday, March 10, Malaprop’s: Deborah Tall reads from her new poetry collection, Summons, the winner of the 1999 Kathryn A. Morton Prize. 7 p.m.
Sunday, March 11, Malaprop’s: Nancy Peacock reads from her novel, Home across the Road. 3 p.m. (Book reviewed.)
Sunday, March 11, Barnes & Noble: Carolina Women’s Press Editor Emily Colin signs copies of The Secret to their Success: How 33 Women Made their Dreams Come True and The Long Way Around: How 34 Women Found the Lives they Love. 2 p.m. 296-9330.
Thursday, March 15, Malaprop’s: Donna M. Gershten reads from her debut novel, Kissing the Virgin’s Mouth, a story of love, the power of sex, and the struggles of women. 7 p.m.
Friday, March 16, Malaprop’s: Local poet David Schenck reads from his new work, Mythographer of the Sun: Prophecies and Poems 1990-2000. Mendy Knott hosts the event and reads from her own works. Dancer Anne Wray also performs. 7 p.m.
Saturday, March 17, Barnes & Noble: Jim Lawrence signs copies of his book, Annie’s Angel. 2 p.m.
Saturday, March 17, Barnes & Noble: Ciaran Carson signs copies of his books, The New Estate: The Irish for No, Belfast Confetti and First Language. 5 p.m.
Sunday, March 18, Malaprop’s: Writer Tommy Hays hosts the monthly Writers at Home series. March features author Carolyn Coman, whose young-adult novels What Jamie Saw and Many Stones — published by Asheville’s Front Street Books — were National Book Award finalists. 3 p.m.
Wednesday, March 21, Barnes & Noble: Carolyn Coman signs copies of her book, Many Stones. 7 p.m.
Friday, March 23, Malaprop’s: Christan Amundsen, M.Th., M.A., discusses his spiritual works, including Insights from the Secret Teachings of Jesus: The Gospel of Thomas. 7 p.m.
Saturday, March 24, Barnes & Noble: Jill Jones signs copies of her novel, Remember Your Lies. 2 p.m.
Sunday, March 25, Malaprop’s: Rob Neufeld discusses the Asheville Urban Trail and the making of the cassette The Asheville Urban Trail: A Walk into History. 3 p.m.
Tuesday, March 27, Dover Campus Center, Gardner-Webb University, Boiling Springs, N.C.: Robert Morgan and Ron Rash host “Reading and Conversing on the Nature of Poetry.” noon. Also on March 27, at G-WU’s Blanton Auditorium: Robert Morgan discusses his novel, Gap Creek. 7:30 p.m. (704) 406-4409.
Thursday, March 29, Malaprop’s: The staff of John F. Blair, Publisher, present their new book, Travel North Carolina: Going Native in the Old North State. 7 p.m.
Friday, March 30, Malaprop’s: William Sadler, Ph.D., discusses his new book, The Third Age: Six Principles of Growth and Renewal after Forty. 7 p.m.
Saturday, March 31, Barnes & Noble: A group booksigning features local authors working in the suspense genre: Scott Nicholson signs copies of his book, Thank You for the Flowers; Robin Spriggs signs copies of her book, Wondrous Strange: Tales of the Uncanny; Joshua Warren signs copies of his books Haunted Asheville and The Evil in Asheville; Steve Eller signs copies of his book, Brainbox: the Real Horror; and James Newman signs copies of Holy Rollers. 2 p.m.
[Bill Brooks teaches the Blue Ridge Writers Program at A-B Tech. He is the author of 10 novels.]