Two young mothers have each lost a child, but they overcome their racial differences to bring about justice in a pre-Civil Rights Mississippi town.
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Prejudice threatens to tear apart a small Mississippi town during the 1950s in Odell's first novel, a well-told but familiar and slow-moving story about a pair of families who find their lives altered by the bigotry of a small-minded sheriff. Hazel Ishee Graham is a backwoods farm girl who uses her beauty to attract Floyd Graham, the ambitious man who becomes her husband and the most successful car salesman in tiny Delphi. On the other side of town, preacher Levi Snow and his daughter, Vida, are being harassed by the cartoonishly piggish sheriff, Billy Dean Brister. The sheriff, who uses the influence of the local senator who got him elected to keep the populace under his thumb, rapes Vida and terrorizes the family after her child is sent away. Meanwhile, one of Hazel's two sons is killed in an accident, and Hazel indulges her proclivities for fast driving and strong spirits, crashing into a life-size nativity scene. This prompts Floyd to hire Vida as a maid to keep Hazel under control. In a series of parallel subplots, both Floyd and Billy Dean have affairs with the senator's comely daughter, Delia. But the pace crawls when Odell lingers over mundane scenes of daily life in Delphi, and flabby prose mutes the novel's dramatic climax. Odell clearly knows his setting and shows obvious compassion for his characters, but the combination of extraneous scenes, too many Southern stereotypes in the character roster and an overly familiar plot keeps his debut ploddingly earthbound.
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The lowlands of Delphi, Mississippi--a small town in the pre-civil rights era-- hold the cotton fields of the wealthy and the shanties of the black sharecroppers who serve them, in. The homes of the town's white citizenry sit on higher ground, reflecting the rigid racial and social stratification. Underlying the social stratification are layers of emotional and relational ties that bring together two women struggling to recover from the loss of their sons. Hazel Graham, who came to Delphi from the Appalachians with her ambitious husband, Floyd, is gradually losing herself to alcoholism and medical sedation. Hazel's maid, Vida, a lifelong resident and daughter of a local minister who has fallen from the favor of the powerful senator, is simmering with vengeance and determined to find her lost son. With the commonality of their loss and the sense of invisibility within the constraints of the small town, the two women move from loathing to mutual reliance and finally friendship on the eve of social changes seeping into the South. Vanessa Bush
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