Wednesday, December 21, 2005

54. A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest J. Gaines

Gathering pictureAnother grab at the library. This time a direct recommendation from Mike who was actually standing right there!

It's the story of a small parrish in Louisiana in the late 70s that is still pulling itself out of its history of slavery. A white foreman is shot by an old black man. The old guy is joined by a dozen of his peers, and the young white woman who owns the land he works. Each of them brings a shotgun fired once and claims that they did it. A standoff ensues that slowly unveils the history of pain and degradation as well as the intransigence of the various groups who live in this area: the poor blacks, the rich whites and the cajuns.

The book is structured so that almost each chapter is narrated by a different voice, giving the reader all the viewpoints. I found it really got interesting when it leaves the location of the standoff and follows the young football star brother of the guy killed. He represents the younger generation who wants the family to let go of its desire for revenge and move forward from its old traditions. There is an incredibly tense scene when he returns to his house and tries to convince his father to not go get revenge. The house is filled with all the hangers-on, supporters and just plain troublemakers who await the decision of the family patriarch (who has already been portrayed as a scary dude).

We forget the brutality of slavery and how it's really not that far away in time. This book, as well as being a rich portrayal of a complex region, reminds us of that.


Crumbolst said...

I, too, found the complexity of the realationships between Blacks, Cajuns and whites, as well as the generational issues. Overcoming the social problems slavery created is going to take many generations, but I think Gaines provides some hope in the deceased's brother.

Gaines is very good at using local voices to create imagery. One of my favorite images is the young black boy running from one house to another with a very important message, slapping his ass so he'll go faster.

WeSailFurther said...

such a good book.