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In the Fall

de Jeffrey Lent

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An interracial relationship between a Union soldier from Vermont and a runaway slave at the end of the Civil War initiates a haunting family legacy of war, racism, and secrets that follows three generations from the end of the Civil War to the Great Depression.
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Es mostren 1-5 de 23 (següent | mostra-les totes)
Another great book by Jeffrey Lent. If I have a single criticism, it's that this one could have used a little editing; it's really, really long, and heavy on description. Then again, description is one of Lent's strong points, and this is a sprawling family saga that runs through three generations. Besides, despite it's length, this is a real page-turner overall.

The novel opens with Norman Pelham, a twice-wounded veteran of the Civil War, making his way back home to Vermont after being released from service. He's accompanied by Leah, a beautiful runaway slave. Instead of taking a fast train home, Norman decided to walk home from Washington "to see the country"--much to his mother's dismay. And she is even more dismayed to learn that Leah is her son's new wife. It's the late 1860s, and even an abolitionist sympathizer like Mrs. Pelham feels this is taking things a bit too far. She moves into town, leaving the family farm to the young couple, with Norman's younger sister Connie stopping by every day to help out. Part I follows Norman and Leah, along with their children, through the hard times and the good, their love overcoming every challenge and sorrow until a final blow and secrets from the past tear the family apart.

I really don't want to give too much away. Suffice it to say that Part II focuses on the youngest child, Jamie, now an adult making his own way not too far from home. Something seems to haunt him; he's a quiet, overly cautious man but, like his mother, clever and resourceful. Jamie's sixteen-year old son, Foster, who is determined to uncover the truth about his father's past, brings the novel full circle in Part III. The novel explores issues of identity--the idea that we can never escape what made us who we are, and that running away from the past is never a clear-cut solution. Of course, it also examines attitudes towards race in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It's a beautiful story of hope, perseverance, forgiveness, and self-acceptance. Highly recommended. ( )
  Cariola | Mar 5, 2021 |
too many words. couldn't do it.. and there's too many books waiting in line to struggle through. maybe this summer I'll go at it again- or-- maybe IN THE FALL!?!?
  nwieme | Mar 19, 2020 |
I should have known what this book would be like when I saw a reviewer compare Jeffrey Lent to Faulkner. Obviously, Lent saw that also and it went to his head. The writing was smug and pretentious, leaving no way to connect with the characters. I normally give a book fifty pages to become interesting, but gave up on this ego-trip at thirty pages. ( )
  tiasreads | Dec 11, 2019 |
In many respects Jeffrey Lent’s In the Fall is a remarkable historical novel. Lent is a skilled narrator, he is knowledgeable about his subject matter, his observations about human conduct are incisive, and his characters are intriguingly exceptionally complex.

Lent’s story spans three generations. It is essentially three novels all of which relate to a violent event that occurs in Sweetboro, North Carolina, at the end of the Civil War. Without giving away important details in the story, I offer the following summary.

A young slave girl, Leah, is sexually attacked by her white, half-brother Alexander Mebane. She strikes his head with the hot iron that she has grasped off the kitchen stove. Believing that he is dead, she seeks advice from the stable-man, old slave Peter about how to escape. Days later she encounters Norman Pelham, a wounded Vermont soldier, lying in underbrush as the Civil War comes to a close. Sensing that he is a kind man, believing that she must atone for killing Mebane, she nurses him to health. They commit to each other and walked back to his family’s farm in Randolph, Vermont. They are married; they have three children. Leah is haunted by what she has left behind in North Carolina. Twenty-five years after the 1865 traumatic event, she goes back to Sweetboro to find answers to questions that have progressively daunted her.

The second part of the novel focuses on Leah and Norman’s youngest child, Jamie. At the age on nineteen, in 1904, he leaves the family farm and finds work in Barre, Vermont, making deliveries of home-made whiskey for his criminal boss. He meets a young woman, Joey, a singer at a local, private night club. He befriends her and then rescues her after she has been beaten by the brother of city police chief. They flee to Bethlehem, New Hampshire, close to Mount Washington, a tourist town with grand hotels that cater to the rich and famous. Jamie becomes a hotel manager and eventually establishes a bootleg whiskey business. Joey pursues a higher level singing career. After a rocky relationship, they marry. They have two children. Tragedies follow.

The third part of In the Fall is about part of the sixteenth year of Jamie and Joey’s older child, Foster Pelham. Living on his own, discovering a letter to his father from one of Norman Pelham’s daughters in Randolph, he goes to his deceased grandparents’ farm and learns from his two aunts the story of his grandparents’ meeting and what the aunts know about Leah’s return to Sweetboro twenty-five years afterward. Foster has not known anything about his grandparents. Intrigued, empathetic, Foster goes to Sweetboro. He discovers that Alexander Mebane is alive and is the source of the evil that has adversely affected his grandparents’ lives, his father’s life, and his own short life.

This exchange between Leah and Norman illustrates Lent’s narrative skills: pointed dialogue, visual clarity, intimation of depth of character, attention to detail.

She said, “I look at you, you know what I see? Norman?”

“I got no idea.”

“I see a man gentle right down in his soul. All the way down.”

Then she was quiet and when she spoke again her voice had lost a little edge and he heard it right away, a little less certainty and he felt this loss in his chest like hot water. She said, “So me. You look at me what do you see? Norman?”

His face furrowed like a spring field, wanting to get this just right. He had no idea what to say and kept looking at her hoping she’d wait for him, hoping she’d be patient. Hoping he’d find his way not out but through this.

She didn’t wait. She said, “You see a little nigger girl wanting to eat up your biscuit, your bacon, whatever you got? You see me thinking my taking care of you once overnight is something I can trade for lots more than that? Or maybe even just nigger pussy ready for you to say the right words, do the right thing? That what you see, Norman? And she reared back away from him now, sitting still on the bench, upright as if at a great distance, her back arched like a drawn bow, eyes burning wide open as her soul welled up but not at all ready to pour out without something back from him. He watched his hands turning one over the other, the fingers lacing and relacing until he realized she was watching him do this. He slid around and lifted his right leg over the bench so he sat straddle-legged facing her front on. With his face collapsed in sheer terror, he said to her, “Leah. All I see is the most lovely girl I’ve ever seen.”

She stood off the bench away from him and said, “I told you the truth, Norman. I told you the truth. But you lying to me if that’s all you see.”

And without even thinking about it he said, “What I see in the most lovely girl and one fat wide world of trouble. Trouble for both of us. That’s what I see.”

And now she stepped back over the bench to face him and said, “You got that right. You got that just exactly right.” He reached and took one of her hands and sat looking down at their hands lying one into the other, the small slip of warmth between his fingers, her life lying up against his, and still not looking at her he said, “Don’t you ever talk that way to me again Leah.”

“What way?” Her voice low, already knowing, needing to ask, needing him to tell her.

So he said, “That nigger-this nigger-that business.”

Lent’s story exudes authenticity. Here is what Joey tells Jamie about her being an entertainer.

“What that means is I wear outfits that make clear there’s a girl underneath and five or six times a night I stand up on Charlie’s little stage and sing. Songs like ‘If You Were a Kinder Fellow Than the Kind of Fellow You Are’ or ‘The Man Was a Stranger to Me’ … Between numbers I have to circulate, work up the crowd. Keep em buying drinks, let em buy me drinks – which is always nothing but cold tea. … Fellows tip you for a song, you flirt a little bit, they tip some more. And there’s some who’ll get a crush on a girl and bring presents to her, give her money that sort of thing. Charlie doesn’t allow his girls to hook but that doesn’t mean some of the girls some of the times don’t make arrangements to meet men outside of the club. … Now, the thing about that business is you have to pick and choose. Because what you want to do is keep the fellow coming around, both to the club and on the side. So you have to work them along, maybe giving a little but mostly putting the idea always in their heads like they’re getting far more than they are, or like they’re just about to.

I was especially impressed that Lent delved into the human psyche regarding coming to terms with one’s aberrant behavior. Here are several examples.

Norman: Telling himself no event lies or falls unconnected to others and that will is only the backbone needed to face these things head on.

Leah: But it was cowards finally who believe they can lay down one life and pick up another and not have them meet again. … That no punishment could be greater than to find in herself that all the rest of her life, that new life, all that was made from a lie. Lying to herself.

Jamie: He believed in luck. Not the ordinary luck that comes to all in runs of good or bad seemingly out of nowhere but luck searched out, sought in the corners and back rooms and cobwebbed recesses where no other might think to look. Luck, then earned someway.

Jamie: We can’t ever learn a thing. We just keep doing the same things over and over. Not even intentional. Like we can’t help ourselves. Like it’s who we really are. That’s it – we spend our lives just becoming what we already someway know we are.

Jamie: Mostly, …people are cruel, given the chance.

Abigail (Jamie’s sister, to Foster): He hated himself, your father did. Hated what he was. Ran out of here and never would come back. Because he did not want to be what he was. The same way Mother thought she could leave her old life behind clean he did the same. But it does not work that way.

Mebane: Every man is a curious thing – each one of us thinks we are nothing so much as our ownselves even as we fume about what had been done to us by others but we almost never see how we pass those wrongs along; we have our reasons for doing what we do and believe them not only to be right but the way things are, the way they have to be.

Mebane: Evil is not a thing that just sums up in a man. No. It is a thread that begins to run in a small way and then falls down through the years and generations to gain weight as it goes.

Mebane: It’s what we all do – we find a way to allow what we want but should not.

Mebane: That is what regret does. It allows you to live with yourself. You know what they say – all men in prison are innocent? … it’s that they grow to understand themselves in such a way as to see that moment, the trigger that set them off in the first place, that got them to where they are, they see that as something separate from themselves. They come to believe, to know, that ever again their choice would be a different one. Not only in the past but in the future. Because they cannot allow the truth.

In the Fall is well worth a reader’s time to read. ( )
  HaroldTitus | Mar 15, 2018 |
Im amerikanischen Bürgerkrieg lernt der Nordstaatensoldat das Mädchen Leah, eine entlaufende Sklavin, kennen, heiratet sie und nimmt sie mit nach Vermonth. Obwohl sich beide sehr lieben, geschieht etwas, was wie ein Fluch über der Familie liegt. Ihr gemeinsamer Sohn Jamie geht weg in eine Welt, in der er als Weißer durchgeht und lebt von illegalem Schnapsverkäufen. Sein Sohn Foster schließlich macht sich auf den Weg, das Familiengeheimnis zu entwirren.
Das Buch ist sehr ausführlich und lang. Es enthält viele Schilderungen und Beschreibungen. Das Leben Leahs und Normans finde ich interessant. Leah ist für die Familie Normans die erste Schwarze, die sie sehen. Akzeptiert wird sie von den Mitbürgern ihrer Gemeinde nicht wirklich, sie lebt ein zurückgezogenes Leben als Farmersfrau. Allerdings geschieht etwas, was sie völlig durcheinanderbringt und das Leben aller Familienmitglieder verändert.
Jamie, der Sohn der beiden, geht als junger Mann weg und baut sich eine Existenz am Rande der Legalität auf. Seine Geschichte fand ich am schwierigsten zu lesen und ihn mochte und verstand ich auch nicht sehr.
Als Jamie relativ jung stirbt, besucht sein Sohn Foster die Familie seines Vaters, die er bisher nicht kennengelernt hat. Er macht sich dann auch auf den Weg, das Geheimnis zu lüften. Diese Teile fand ich sehr gut und interessant zu lesen. Insgesamt machte mich das Buch, machten mich die Geschehnisse fassungslos. Welches Unrecht tun Menschen einander an, nur weil sie in der Lage dazu sind. Das geschieht heute ebenso und ebenso geschieht es, weil sich die einen den anderen für überlegen halten. Männer über Frauen, Weiße über Schwarze, Erwachsene über Kinder. Wann wird man je verstehn? ( )
  Wassilissa | Jan 9, 2016 |
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for Marion
the sweet long road
~ ~
And for their unstinting support and enthusiasm,
Michael Hill and Holley Bishop
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(Prologue) The boy woke in the dark house and knew he was alone.
(Part I) The boy's grandfather came down off the hill farm above the Bethel road south of Randolph early in the summer of 1862, leaving behind his mother and the youngest girl still at home along with a dwindling flock of Merino sheep and a slowly building herd of milk cows.
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One minute you’re red as bears’ eyes and the next you’re flat on the ground with the world all gone to pain and men climbing over you running and you thinking about your daddy sitting on his fat ass down there and knowing it’s men like him that keep this thing going at the same time you know somehow it’s men like him keep it from working.
Coming in at dusk or later to the kitchen steamed with food, fatigue a pleasure over him like summer sun, smelling himself as he washed for supper, the sweat and sweet sawdust on him as the skin of a day’s work.
He’d learned long ago that understanding almost anything was what happened later on.
Oh, she’ll make a fine wife, no doubt. I just wouldn’t want to be the husband is all. I expect any man’s just going to get in the way of her doing her job of wifing, that’s what I think.
“… time’s just an old idiot locked away in a closet when you’re young. But the rascal doesn’t stay there, I promise you that.” “I hate that you’ll-understand-all-this-years-from-now talk.” “I know it. But that’s just the thing. You will.”
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An interracial relationship between a Union soldier from Vermont and a runaway slave at the end of the Civil War initiates a haunting family legacy of war, racism, and secrets that follows three generations from the end of the Civil War to the Great Depression.

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