Out of the Night That Covers Me

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9780446527514: Out of the Night That Covers Me
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An orphaned white boy and an eccentric black man forge an unlikely friendship in the segregated world of 1950s Alabama. The boy, John, whose beloved mother has died, now faces a loveless future with his alcoholic uncle on a sharecropper's farm in the Alabama Black Belt -- an abusive life he soon dreams of escaping. The black man, Tuway, works by day in the town bank. By night, he helps other blacks escape the poverty of the rural South to find a new life in Chicago. As he negotiates the schism between black and white cultures, Tuway is forced to include a desperate John into his double life. In a bid to change their lives -- and help others in need -- Tuway and John take on the threats and challenges that foreshadow the great civil rights upheaval of the 1960s.

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Review:

Out of the Night That Covers Me takes place a decade before the civil rights movement, but the spirit of the coming upheaval hangs over its pages as heavily as the humidity of an Alabama summer. Pat Cunningham Devoto's second novel revolves around two characters: John McMillan, a precocious, sheltered 8-year-old sent to live with poor relations after his mother's death, and Tuway, an African American with a foot in both the black and white worlds. Their stories intersect when the powerful Judge Vance takes an interest in John. He brings the boy to work at the Planters and Merchants Bank of Lower Peach Tree, where the mysteriously disfigured Tuway acts as his assistant. The judge, we soon learn, is no judge at all. Instead, his title is an allusion to his economic omnipotence: "He the one says if you get a crop loan or not. Round here, if you gets a crop loan, you can make it, and if you don't, you might just as well go on off down the road."

A suspiciously large number of black families have done just that, defaulting on debts and fleeing Alabama's cotton fields for the factories of Chicago. But who provides the money and means for their flight? As John learns more about the financial and political intrigues of Lower Peach Tree, he dreams of making his own escape from his abusive new family. The events that follow forge an unlikely alliance between the silent, wounded black man and the equally wounded orphan--and test their courage in unexpected ways.

As skillfully as Devoto evokes time and place, her novel is not without flaws. John's voice, for example, tends toward the irritatingly precious, and the writing sometimes falls flat. Yet the author movingly portrays the ways poverty can both pinch lives into meanness (witness the case of John's alcoholic Uncle Luther) and challenge people to face their problems together, as in the all-black community known as the Bend. If this juxtaposition of violence and cooperation seems a little, well, black and white, that's part of the book's charm; its moral sureties belong to a time when good and evil were as easy to distinguish in life as they are in fiction. --Chloe Byrne

From AudioFile:

Eight-year-old John Gallatin McMillan III's mother has just died, and so he finds himself living with his aunt and her family in rural Alabama. John's new life is replete with hard work in the cotton fields, hoeing and weeding in the hot sun, and interaction with poor blacks and even poorer whites. John's story is interspersed with a disconnected second theme, which disconcertingly interrupts the flow of the story. Pat Cunningham Devoto's heavy Southern accents require attentiveness on the part of the listener. Devoto's tongue clicks and slow enunciation are distracting at first, but eventually they smooth into the background as the story takes hold and John learns to flourish in the South. M.B.K. © AudioFile 2001, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine

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