Synopses & Reviews
Chapter OneA Matter of VocabularyThomas Brown stopped going to church at twelve after one Sunday morning when he had been caught playing behind the minister's pulpit by several deacons who had come up into the room early to count the money they had collected from the other children in the Sunday school downstairs. Thomas had seen them putting some of the change in their pockets and they had seen him trying to hide behind the big worn brown pulpit with the several black Bibles and the pitcher of ice water and the glass used by the minister in the more passionate parts of his sermons. It was a Southern Baptist Church."Come on down off of that, little Brother Brown," one of the fat, black-suited deacons had told him. "We see you tryin' to hide. Ain't no use tryin' to hide in God's House."Thomas had stood up and looked at them; all three of them, big-bellied, severe and religiously righteous. "I wasn't tryin' to hide," he said in a low voice."Then what was you doin' behind Reverend Stone's pulpit?""I was praying," Thomas had said coolly.After that he did not like to go to church. Still, his mother would make him go every Sunday morning; and since he was only thirteen and very obedient, he could find no excuse not to leave the house. But after leaving with his brother Edward, he would not go all the way to church again. He would make Edward, who was a year younger, leave him at a certain corner a few blocks away from the church where Saturday-night drunks were sleeping or waiting in misery for the bars to open on Monday morning. His own father had been that way and Thomas knew that the waiting was very hard. He felt good toward the men, being almost one of them, and liked to listen to themcurse and threaten each other lazily in the hot Georgia sun. He liked to look into their faces and wonder what was in their minds that made them not care about anything except the bars opening on Monday morning. He liked to try to distinguish the different shades of black in their hands and arms and faces. And he liked the smell of them. But most of all he liked it when they talked to him and gave him an excuse for not walking down the street two blocks to the Baptist Church."Don' you ever get married, boy," Arthur, one of the meaner drunks with a missing eye, told him on several occasions.The first time he had said it the boy had asked: "Why not?""Cause a bitch ain't shit, man. You mind you don' get married now, hear? A bitch'll take all yo' money and then throw you out "in the street!""Damn straight!" Leroy, another drunk much darker than Arthur and a longshoreman, said. "That's all they fit for, takin' a man's money and runnin' around."Thomas would sit on the stoop of an old deserted house with the men lying on the ground below him, too lazy to brush away the flies that came at them from the urine-soaked dirt on the hot Sunday mornings, and he would look and listen and consider. And after a few weeks of this he found himself very afraid of girls.Things about life had always come to Thomas Brown by listening and being quiet. He remembered how he had learned about being black, and about how some other people were not. And the difference it made. He felt at home sitting with the waiting drunks because they were black and he knew that they liked him because for months before he had stopped going to church, he had spoken to them while passing, and they had returned his greeting. Hismother had always taught him to speak to people in the streets because Southern blacks do not know how to live without neighbors who exchange greetings. He had noted, however, when he was nine, that certain people did not return his greetings. At first he had thought that their silence was due to his own low voice: he had gone to a Catholic school for three years where the black-caped nuns put an academic premium on silence. He had learned that in complete silence lay his safety from being slapped or hit on the flat of the hand with a wooden ruler. And he had been a model student. But even when he raised his voice, intentionally, to certain people in the street they still did not respond. Then he had noticed that while they had different faces like the nuns, whom he never thought of as real people, these nonspeakers were completely different in dress and color from the people he knew. But still, he wondered why they would not speak.He never asked his mother or anyone else about it: ever since those three years with the nuns he did not like to talk much. And he began to consider certain things about his own person as possible reasons for these slights. He began to consider why it was necessary for one to go to the bathroom. He began to consider whether only people like him had to go to the toilet and whether or not this thing was the cause of his complexion; and whether the other people could know about the bathroom merely by looking at his skin, and did not speak because they knew he did it. This bothered him a lot; but he never asked anyone about it. Not even his brother Edward, with whom he shared a bed and from whom, in the night and dark closeness of the bed, there should have beenkept no secret thoughts. Nor did he speak of it to Leroy, the most talkative drunk, who wet the dirt behind the old house where they sat...
Hue and Cry is the remarkably mature and agile debut story collection from James Alan McPherson, one of America's most venerated, most original writers. McPherson's characters -- gritty, jazzy, authentic, and pristinely rendered -- give voice to unheard struggles along the dividing lines of race and poverty in subtle, fluid prose that bears no trace of sentimentality, agenda, or apology.
First published in 1968, this collection includes the Atlantic Prize-winning story "Gold Coast" (selected by John Updike for the collection Best American Short Stories of the Century) and introduced America to McPherson's unforgettable, enduring vision and distinctive artistry.
About the Author
Pulitzer Prize winner and Guggenheim Fellow James Alan McPherson was born in Savannah, Georgia. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School and holds an MFA from the University of Iowa. In a writing career that spans forty years, McPherson has been a contributor to many publications, including The Atlantic, Esquire, and Playboy, and was the editor of Double Take magazine. He is a professor of English at the University of Iowa.