On a cool night in February, it comes as no surprise that Quail Ridge Books & Music was almost filled to capacity as the staff scrambled to find chairs for a steadily growing group of fans. James McBride was visiting this independent bookstore in Raleigh, N.C., to discuss his latest novel, "Song Yet Sung."
There's something special about McBride. He wowed book lovers with his best-selling novel, "The Color of Water." "Miracle at St. Anna," his fiction debut from 2003, was a tale about black soldiers during World War II. "Miracle at St. Anna" is a movie in the making and predicted to be a blockbuster, thanks to filmmaker Spike Lee. McBride's uniqueness lies in his sing-song way with words, his infectious laughter and his casual and candid interaction with fans. Sounds of soft chatter and flipping pages competed as people scanned the room, eagerly awaiting his arrival.
Finally, he strolled out to greet the enthusiastic crowd and settled at the podium with purpose and a huge grin. He was at ease, not only with himself, but with others; and his fans knew they were in for a treat.
McBride shared his love of writing and music, and he relived candid stories about his mother. He joked about the politics of living black and white; but his success is no joke. The death of two of his siblings and the politics of a marriage between his white mother and black father were tumultuous events in this author's life. McBride didn't pause to dwell on adversity, but instead, penned his way to success.
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He elaborated on the joy of creating, whether performing music or writing. McBride read a passage from "Song Yet Sung," while fans lingered on his every word. He closed the book to loud applause and ended with, "You'll have to buy the book to find out what happens next."
What happens next
There's an old saying, "Tell the truth and shame the devil." Well, here's the truth ... After the event, I grabbed my bag and raced home to devour the four remaining chapters of "Song Yet Sung." I have not revealed the substance of these last chapters, but I can promise you that it only gets better. So let's start from the beginning ...
At the center of this story is a beautiful and troubled slave girl, Liz Spocott, the Dreamer. She dreams of the future and early on gains the trust of many suspicious but tired slaves waiting on yet another miracle. The Dreamer befriends the "Woman with No Name" and fulfills a long awaited prophecy. A meeting so magical can only lead to chaos; and the Dreamer is soon pursued by merciless Patty Cannon and her posse, and money hungry Denwood Long known as "The Gimp." Everyone has a different agenda; and nothing, not even unpredictable weather conditions nor the most dangerous terrain, will halt their imminent capture of the Dreamer. But nobody knows the Chesapeake like the rugged watermen - agile on water and skilled at fishing and oystering.
Intent on duping their latest prey, unsuspecting slave catchers overlook a plot in the making by slave Amber and his nephew, Wiley. Unfortunately these dreams are abandoned when a young white boy goes missing. All hell breaks loose, along with a heavy downpour, as desperate and dog-tired hunters trek through muddy logging trails, low-lying swamps, bogs and hidden marshes.
How long can the Dreamer evade them? With the help of the Chesapeake watermen and the slaves' secret code, who knows? But exactly what is the code? What does it mean? What does Clarence, the blacksmith, reveal to "The Gimp?"
"You free or slave?" Denwood asked.
"Then I could get you in a mite of trouble, couldn't I?"
The blacksmith placed his hammer down. "I done nothing wrong," he said.
"Five hits. Stop. Two taps. Stop That's it, ain't it? Tell me you ain't signaling somebody, and I'll leave right now on your word. But if I find out you're lying, I'll knock you squint-eyed and stand you up for the constable. You working on the gospel train, ain't ya?"
Amber, Clarence the blacksmith, Denwood Long "the Gimp" and nameless watermen are essential to this story, but the one character who captures and holds my attention is the Woolman. He boasts a wild mane of woolly hair that cascades down his muscular back. Feared by those who are quick enough to get a glimpse of him, he is often referred to as "the devil." Strong and adaptable to the harshest of environments, the wild looking Woolman declares war, and now, even the hunters are being hunted.
McBride, a skillful storyteller, masters in just 359 pages, beauty, deceit, rage, greed, love, fear, hope and passion. This incredibly intense and colorful saga merits a sequel ... and soon!