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Ellen Douglas: The Rock Cried Out

Douglas is not afraid to tackle the violence in the South head on and she does so with a vengeance here. The story is ostensibly about Alan McLaurin, a young Mississippian who has returned from the North to take up residence on the family property just outside Homochitto, Douglas’ favourite fictitious town. Alan is haunted by the death of Phoebe, his cousin, ten year previously. Alan was in love with Phoebe when she was killed in a car crash. She was with Sam, a black man who lives on McLaurin property, who survived the crash and Timmie, Sam’s wife, who did not. Alan has been looking for Phoebe ever since – his current girlfriend, a Northerner called Miriam, is the spitting image of Phoebe.

The story is about how Alan tries (and ultimately fails) to exorcise his image of Phoebe but it is also about the violence of the South. Sam has just returned from three years in Parchman, for having smashed up the satellite tracking station which is on McLaurin property and then having tried to escape, for which he was shot in both legs and one eye. The violence of both black and white (though, particularly the latter) is a strong undercurrent all the way through the book. The Klan and the Freedom Fighters, the burning of churches and the general violence visited by men on other men, even the Civil War, all keep simmering along to remind us what happens in Mississippi. Will Alan find out that the death of Phoebe was more complicated than he thought? Yes, he will. Will he find true happiness? No, he won’t. There is too much still there.

Publishing history

First published 1979 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich