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A Killing in This Town.

A Killing in This Town by Olympia Vernon Grove Press, February 2006 $22, ISBN 0-802-11813-5

Olympia Vernon's third novel addresses a violent and destructive time in African American history. Set in a rural, segregated Southern town, A Killing in This Town is a story of redemption and hope. In Bullock, Mississippi, lynching is a rite of passage for all 13-year-old white boys, until an unexpected force halts--if only temporarily--the cycle of killing. Vernon presents a cast of characters to tell the story of the local Klan and the black community it terrorizes.

The protagonist is Adam Pickens, whose life is not his to control. Adam is born to carry on the violent traditions of his forefathers. Though the story of lynching is not new territory, Vernon adds an unexpected twist in the form of Gil Mender. His prodigal-like return to town sets the book in motion and helps free young Adam of his burden. Eventually, Adam's parents as well as the black preacher and the Klan leader's wife will all be affected by the boy's final choice.

Vernon tells the story mainly from the perspectives of the white characters who are culpable. The crimes of Bullock are committed by white men, with their women acting as accessories to murder. It is only when these men and women express their personal sins, regrets and loneliness that Vernon can bring the violence and story to a close.

One thing Vernon would never be called is lazy. Her meticulous attention to detail and imagery challenges and sometimes confuses. She has been compared to Morrison and Marquez for her use of language. She cleverly combines complex narrative with simple dialogue, which adds meat to the story. Unfortunately, she also uses language as a crutch. With minimal character development and no real backstory, you are forced to read between the lines and never get to know the characters deeply.

Despite these flaws, Vernon goes where few authors are comfortable, bravely addressing the psychological and physical effects lynching had not only on the black community, but also on all others involved.

Denise M. Doig is a freelance writer and editor in New York.
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Author:Doig, Denise M.
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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