Walter Bennett’s “Leaving Tuscaloosa” brings a new voice to the Southern literary field, one that resonates with the deeply human stories of white segregationists, black Civil Rights advocates, and ordinary small town people in the deep South in the sixties. Every character is fully human, and when a frustrated high school boy sets things off with some late night hit-and-run pitching practice, aimed at the head of the town’s most powerful black preacher, every voice in town gets a chance to tell his or her side of things, resulting in a wide-open window into the beating heart of a time and place few from outside that time and place have been able to fully comprehend. Bennett’s narrative strategy, by including so many compelling voices, is compassionate and beautifully written. But it is Acee and his white boyhood friend Bo who will break your heart and leave you thinking about what was lost and gained during that era. A wonderful book for generating open and lively discussion, 50 years after a voice rose up from the deep South and said, “I have a dream today.”
Review from Marjorie Hudson, Accidental Birds of the Carolinas
You wouldn’t expect Richeboux Branscomb, a white teenager, and Acee Waites, a black cook, to cross paths very often in 1962 Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Richeboux and his fellow high-school friends occasionally crowd the Red Elephant Grill, wolfing down cheeseburgers with no regard for the man behind the grill. After eating at the Grill one summer night, Richeboux and his friends pile into a ’55 Ford and decide to take a joyride through Cherrytown, Tuscaloosa’s still-segregated black neighborhood, armed with eggs. When a late-night prank results in a fatality, touching off a chain of events that forces Richeboux and Acee to become better acquainted, both young men recognize each others’ aspirations, dreams, anger, and pain. A story of racial tension, upward mobility, and inner strength, Bennett’s Leaving Tuscaloosa is a compelling and all-consuming story. Richeboux, Acee, and other members of the community are expertly drawn characters with clear motives, set against a sweltering Alabama backdrop. Bennett has a fine ear for dialogue, seamlessly switching between Richeboux’s and Acee’s speaking patterns. Darker than Kathryn Stockett’s The Help (2009), Leaving Tuscaloosa is a haunting read.— Stephanie Turza
Click HERE to see my interview on WHNT in Huntsville.