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      Another aspect of Wolff’s descriptive economy is imagery that works on more than one level.  At one point in the story Toby’s (latest) stepfather is berating the boy for his mocking disrespect, calling him a “hotshot” and “liar,” this while careening drunkenly along a mountain road.  Scared, Toby has his hands against the dashboard, bracing himself.  His stepfather says, “‘You’re in for a change, mister. You got that? You’re in for a whole nother ball game.’” The next sentence ends the chapter: “I braced myself for the next curve,” the next curve being both the physical one in the road and the new phase of stepfather-and- son relationship (90-91).  The explicit physical image further illuminates the corresponding human entanglement.
     Not enough people know about Melissa Fay Greene’s award-winning work: Praying for Sheetrock, 1991.  (Her second book, The Temple Bombing, 1996, is also fine.)  You could teach a course on creative nonfiction from this book; it illustrates much of the style I strive for.  First, where journalism or conventional nonfiction demands a straightforward, unadorned voice, as a signal and guarantor of authenticity, Greene keeps the implicit guarantee yet brings lyricism to the story.  The prologue opens:
  Two trucks collided on the crisscrossed highways in the small hours of the morning when the mist was thick.  The protesting squeal of metal against metal and smashing glass silenced whatever small noises were afoot in the dark country at that hour, the little noises of munching and grunting that arose from the great salt marsh nearby. . . . the blacktops of the rural state routes were slick; and the truck headlights merely illuminated the fog from within as if sheets of satin were draped across the road. . . . After that blast of sound and its fallout of hollow chrome pieces dropping onto the road and rolling away, the quietness of the rural county flowed back in, and the muddy sucking and rustling noises arose again from the marsh. . . . [the] Volunteer Fire Department truck arrived first, unfurling a long red scarf of sound on the country roads behind it. (1)
Greene’s poetic voice and imagery are more, however, than merely aesthetically pleasing; they serve as economical delivery of story material.  Here she sets up themes that will continue throughout the story: outside entities arrive and have their effect in the county, yet nature will continue its quiet and inevitable work in the darkness beyond the main roads.  And, concerning the distinctly local character of events: although the story features mostly small-town and even backwoods doings, these are also, paradoxically, epic events.  (Alone on page xiii, just before the prologue: “McIntosh County is pretty country and it’s got some nice people, but it’s the most different place I’ve ever been to in my life. —Harry Coursey, GBI Special Agent, Savannah.”)
     At the risk of oversimplification—almost anything you say about the book risks that—the story centers on two men: a “stammering, uneducated, local black man, Thurnell Alston, a disabled boilermaker,” who, in 1972, would galvanize his McIntosh County, south Georgia, black community to fight for civil rights, against all odds; and—the personification of all odds—the county’s High Sheriff, Tom Poppell, who reigned for thirty-one years, who, “‘If he hadn’t died, Tom’d still be sheriff,’ many people said in the 1990s.  And others remarked, ‘Yeah, and he died unindicted’” (3).  Alston is an unlikely hero, and come to find out, he’s also flawed; and Poppell is not purely villainous:
  With daylight Sheriff Poppell knew, and the firefighters knew, and the deputies knew, and the people in the cabins in the surrounding woods knew—and if the truck drivers had realized their trucks had crashed in McIntosh County, Georgia (431 miles of swamp, marsh, and forest: population 7,000) they would have known—that it was nearing time for a little redistribution of wealth.  It was one of the things for which Tom Poppell was famous across the South.  It was one of the things that invariably put the sheriff in an excellent mood.  (3)
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