Friday, March 2, 2012

"The Healing"

Jonathan Odell is the author of the acclaimed novel The View from Delphi, which deals with the struggle for equality in pre-civil rights Mississippi, his home state. His new novel, The Healing (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday), explores the subversive role that story plays in the healing of an oppressed people.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Healing and reported the following:
What a perfect place to land, page 69! The first 68 pages are the build-up to a new character unlike anyone on this 1860 slave plantation has ever seen before. She is an ancient black woman, and she is a “bought” slave, unlike the other 300 slaves who were born and raised on this isolated stretch of drained Delta swampland. Besides being an outsider, they quickly sense she possesses a confidence like no other slave they have encountered. And thirdly, they know, since she cost the the Master the amazing sum of $5000, she had to be bought for some special function that none could guess. Page 69 sees everyone on the plantation, cooks, weavers, dairymen and even the white Mistress and her son, watch this mysterious woman drive her wagon of supplies into the yard, handling the mules like a man. Thus enters Polly Shine, a slave healer, and with her begins the mystery that plays our over the next 300 pages—is Polly a magician, a conjurer, a witch or a redeemer?

Page 69:
ond-guessed herself. It couldn’t be woman. The driver handled the four-mule wagon like a man, spitting tobacco off the side of the wheels and popping the reins sharply. A Choctaw Indian maybe!

Little Lord took off down the steps and Granada took off after him. At the foot of the stairs Granada came to a stop, but Little Lord continued to race toward the galloping horse. Master Ben grasped the boy under the arm and hoisted him up into the saddle. From his perch between his father and the pommel, Little Lord found Granada’s eyes and then stuck his tongue out at her. They both exploded into fits of giggles.

A spirit of hilarity hung over the entire plantation. For days servants had been in a state of high anticipation. Like Granada, the younger ones had never seen a bought Negro before, and the older ones thought they might never see one again, especially one from as far away as the Carolinas.

The whole yard came out to watch. Washwomen and spinners and weavers, dairy and stable hands, the children too young to work and the old ones too feeble, they all gathered in the yard. From inside the mansion, house slaves peeked out from French plate windows. Even Mistress Amanda stepped onto the upstairs gallery with Daniel Webster perched upon her shoulder and watched as the wagon rolled into the yard.

The driver jerked back on the reigns and the horses pulled to a stop in front of the new four-room cabin while everybody stood there with chins nearly touching the ground.

It was a woman after all!

“Lord, she a sight!” Granada whispered to herself. She had never seen anything like her. The stranger was reddish brown with pointed cheekbones and amber eyes. Bird feathers stuck out of her braids this way and that, and around her neck she wore a ponderous necklace made of gleaming white shells. She was as skinny as a river bird, and draped over her shoulders was a mangy wrap made from the fur of some animal Granada imagined being too ugly to ever have lived.
Learn more about the book and author at Jonathan Odell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue