Returning to the backwoods South of the 1960s, so well depicted in her debut novel Mother of Pearl, Melinda Haynes introduces us to a new cast of characters struggling amid the trials and terrors of their everyday life.
On a hot summer morning, sixteen-year-old Hezekiah straps his mentally retarded younger brother Yellababy to his back and announces that he's going to Chalktown. From inside her home-turned-consignment shop, his distracted and often cruel mother only reminds him of the school he's missed, while the people he meets along the way warn him about the strangeness of the small village down the road.
The inhabitants of Chalktown, all three of them, have stopped talking to each other, only communicating when necessary by writing on blackboards propped up in front of their houses. An unsolved murder in 1955 and the recent discovery of neighbor #4 in his house days after his death have left Chalktown residents suspicious of each other while the rest of the world stays as far away as possible.
Haynes, a Hattiesburg, Mississippi native, was a high-school drop out who supported her family by painting commissioned portraits. She was 44 when she wrote her first novel. Her obvious gift for lyrical prose and convincing dialect propelled Mother of Pearl into the glorified rank of an Oprah's Book Club selection. Both brutal and poetic in her writing, Haynes explores the people and situations in a part of the world that many of us try to look past. Once again, she forces us to not only see her characters, but with vivid descriptions and multiple points of view, convinces us to like them despite their eccentricities and harsh realities.