Picks and Pans Review: The Last Hotel for Women
by Vicki Covington
Eugene "Bull" Connor, commissioner of public safety in Birmingham, Ala., in the early 1960s and a notorious segregationist, isn't usually regarded in a sympathetic light. But Birmingham-based novelist Vicki Covington draws a complex fictional portrait of the race-baiter: emotionally stunted, narrow-minded, but longing for love. The Connor she creates hangs out at a Birmingham hotel owned by his friend Dinah Fraley, daughter of the woman who once ran it as a bordello. During the summer of the Freedom Riders, 1961, Dinah and her husband, Pete, feel obligated by the times to recast their relationships with the blacks they know, and Connor watches with alarm and frustration. Finally he bursts out with a painful secret from the past.
This book, Covington's fourth, is an interesting, ambitious piece of storytelling that doesn't quite hit the mark. The writer frequently resorts to stilted plotting to make her points, and the novel is overstuffed with good intentions. Nonetheless, for its lyrical language and beautiful evocation of the city of Birmingham alone, it's well worth checking into The Last Hotel for Women. (Simon & Schuster, $23)
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