Picks and Pans Review: Mary

updated 04/06/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/06/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Mary E. Mebane

In some ways first-time author Mebane's childhood in rural North Carolina in the 1930s could have been idyllic. But she found early on that "my mother, Nonnie, had no warmth, no love, no human feeling for me." Her anger began then. A black, Mebane grew up almost overcome by the feeling that she was trapped. This autobiography is painful. She recalls a white man taking the "wrong" seat on a public bus and a tiny black woman screaming, "The government gave us these seats. These is niggers' seats." Mebane's days working with other black women in a tobacco factory are a shocking revelation of a special, perverse kind of inhumanity. Her brother and other men are brutal in their drinking and sex. Indeed, terror permeates the whole book. Mary's extremely calm and direct prose conveys a multilayered world of suffering. Its surface, the words on the pages, is simple and familiar. But the rage that lies just underneath is awesome. Mebane, an English teacher at the University of Wisconsin, has suffered, and she insists that readers suffer with her. (Viking, $12.95)

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