Picks and Pans Review: Tobacco Sticks
by William Elliott Hazelgrove
Richmond, Va., on the edge of sweeping political and social changes in the summer of 1945, is the setting for this poignant story narrated by 12-year-old Lee Hartwell, whose coming of age coincides with upheavals in his family and society following World War II.
Union organizers and the Second District Negro Democrats, led by an educated black man from the North, Silas Jackson, are backing a candidate against the incumbent Senator Herrin, an unbeatable good ol' boy who has held the seat for 15 years. Lee's father, Burke, is the senator's campaign manager and a fixture among the city's upper crust until he takes on the case of a young black woman (raised by his housekeeper) who is accused of grand larceny and prosecuted because of her involvement with Silas Jackson. While his characters seem familiar (the all-wise black housekeeper, the crooked politician, the brilliant lawyer who puts ethics above all), Hazel-grove—author of a prizewinning first novel, Ripples—uses them effectively to capture the sensibility of the postwar South. The result is a spirited saga of a family and an incident that effectively mirrors a time and a place. (Pantonne Press, $18.95)
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