Thursday, October 29, 2015

"Yard War"

Taylor Kitchings’ roots in Mississippi run many generations deep, though it took him a while to circle back to them. As a college freshman, he recorded the original album Clean Break, now considered a collector’s item. As a junior, he wrote music for mallet and giant Möbius strip, performed at Manhattan’s Café La MaMa. In the years between his BA from Rhodes College and MA from Ole Miss, he traveled from Memphis to New York to Europe, writing and performing songs on piano. He and his wife Beth have two children and live in Ridgeland, Mississippi, where he teaches English at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School. His short story “Mr. Pinky Gone Fishing” was published in the collection Tight Lines from Yale University Press.

Kitchings applied the Page 69 Test to Yard War, his first novel, and reported the following:
Twelve-year-old Trip Westbrook has discovered that his housekeeper’s son Dee can throw a heck of a pass and has invited him to join a football game in the front yard. There’s just one problem: like all housekeeper’s sons in Jackson, Mississippi in 1964, Dee is African American. On page 69 [inset below left; click to enlarge], Trip’s mom and dad have come into his room after supper to tell him the neighbors have complained about his new friend and Dee’s participation in football games will have to stop.

Trip’s mother, Virginia, comes from a wealthy family in Jackson, steeped in Old South traditions and attitudes, but she gives the maid a bonus at Christmas, has taught her children never to say the “n-word” and does not consider herself a racist. Trip’s father, Sam, is a comparative “soft-hearted liberal,” having grown up playing street ball with African American kids in a poor section of New Orleans and having served with African American soldiers in the Korean War. He had planned to join Virginia in telling Trip to honor the neighbors’ demands, but as we see on page 69, he changes his mind.

Heretofore, Trip’s parents have always spoken to the children in a united “Mama-Daddy” voice, so here is a startling shift in the family dynamic and a hint of the turmoil to come as Trip refuses to give up his new friend, no matter what the neighbors think.
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--Marshal Zeringue