By John Smolens
Random House 2001
In the stunning first chapter of John Smolens' third novel, Norman Haas walks away from a
federal prison in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in a blinding blizzard. He ends up in Liesl Tiomenen's
backyard, half-frozen, and Liesl, a sculptor, widow and the soul of Smolens' novel, lets him in,
chaining him to a radiator. Then, on snowshoes and with her loaded rifle across her shoulders, she
forces Norman to walk to the nearest store so she can hand him over to the sheriff. Before they
make it to the store, Liesl falls off a ledge and injures her back. The chapter ends with Liesl in
desperate pain in a snowbank, hoping that Norman will find help and send it her way.
Smolens writes that rare form of fiction, a realism so tangible that a part of you becomes a
part of the characters, the community, the landscape. In a land of such unyielding weather, much of
life is taken up with survival, and Smolens shows how cold penetrates his characters. Many of the
"yoopers"--a half-mocking term U.P. residents use for themselves--he portrays, having missed the
chance of finding a better life, live resigned to it: a resignation tinged with desperation.
Others, like Liesl, thrive on it.
As she sculpts the bust of a man, Liesl thinks about
Norman: "What Norman did, leaving her in the snow, most people would call evil. Liesl didn't think
so. It was honest. He walked away from her and realized he would only put himself in jeopardy if he
tried to get her help. Any animal would do the same, including a human. ... That's what she had
going here: a man struggling against a cold, brutal wind and blinding snow, a man honest enough to
do whatever was necessary to survive."
Across this icy, desolate landscape, the six main
characters converge on an isolated hunting lodge during a blizzard, where the story that begins
with a betrayal ends in a violent, shattering conclusion. Smolens' novel is so well crafted that
the cold will chill you to the bone.
Delta, Piedmont, and Sea Island Society in the Age of
By J. William Harris
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001
"Deep South is a term of almost mythic resonance. The phrase names the lower tier of states in
the southeastern United States, but it provokes images that a more neutral geographical
term--the lower South or the Gulf States --cannot. 'Still waters run deep,' we say; a
profound thinker is 'deep'; the worst of anything is the 'depths.' All these connotations are
suggested by Deep South: a place frozen in time, marked by violent extremes of action and belief,
yet, in the hands of its writers and musicians, touched by profundity."
So begins this absorbing study of three lower-South regions--the Mississippi-Yazoo Delta, the
eastern Georgia Piedmont, and the Sea Islands and rice coast of Georgia--from Reconstruction to the
Second World War. Although all three regions initially shared the same histories and
populations--all had economies based on slave plantation labor in 1860--their histories sharply
diverged during the three generations after Reconstruction.
In the Delta, still
largely a wilderness in 1860, huge public works and land clearing made possible immense cotton
plantations, which drew the black migrants who gave birth to a new musical form--the blues. In the
Piedmont, plantation agriculture revived with the use of black and white tenant labor, and the
region became a Populist Party stronghold. Along the rice coast, thousands of former slaves became
landowning peasant farmers, conserving traditions that had largely disappeared elsewhere.
Harris, who is chair of the UNH history department, is a wonderful storyteller as well as an
accomplished historian, and he begins each chapter with a fascinating tale about a particular
southerner. For example, the first chapter begins with the personal history of Louis Manigault, who
attempted to regain his family's rice plantation after the Civil War. Another tells the story of
James Monroe Smith, who built up a huge Georgia cotton plantation based on convict labor.
No less moving are his accounts of the African Americans, once slaves, who struggled to become
landowners themselves. "Twenty years after the Civil War," Harris concludes, "a precarious balance
had been reached in Georgia's rice region. Rice growers, operating in a highly competitive
commercial market, depended on black labor to keep their plantations in business. Former slaves
owned small plots of land and operated in a peasant-like economy in which autonomy meant more than
success. African Americans had won much of the autonomy they wanted, but not all, because they
still depended on work in the rice fields to bring in needed cash. Neither former masters nor
former slaves had gotten everything they hoped for."
Harris deftly moves between personal history and analysis, making this a rich and multi-layered
study about a complex era in American history. ~
Anne Downey '95G, a free-lance writer who lives in Eliot, Maine, received her Ph.D. in
English from UNH.
Face First by Priscilla Cummings '73, Dutton Children's Books, 2001.
This is a wonderful novel about a 12-year-old girl who learns to piece her life together after it
is shattered by an accident. The best fiction for children offers much for adults, and so it is
with this novel as we learn about burn injuries, family strength and courage.
to Deadline: The Journalist at Work by Donald M. Murray '48, Heinemann,
2000. A lively and engaging primer on the art and craft of journalism, including interesting
interviews with reporters and helpful analyses of news stories.
Citizens and Genocide: A Comparative and Interdisciplinary Approach by
Alex Alvarez '87G, '95G, Indiana University Press, 2001. Viewing the crime of genocide through
the lens of social science, this book examines it from the perspective of the state, organization
and individual, showing how government olicies and institutions in genocidal states are designed to
suppress the moral inhibitions of ordinary individuals.
Newspapers & America's War for Democracy, 1914-1920 by William G. Jordan
'91G, '96G, University of North Carolina Press, 2001. A fascinating account of the strategies
black newspapers employed during World War I to both support democracy and demand racial justice.
Chimera by M.J. Graykin '86, Xlibris Corporation, 2001. This
imaginative novel tracks the developing friendship of two non-human protagonists: Castellan
Prilock, a super cop who can assume the appearance of any creature or object he desires, and Shaka
Mahdi, who captains her own ship and has an enormous, and very useful, reptilian tail. Their
adventures shed light on the sometimes amusing, sometimes disgusting and almost always inferior
behavior of humans.
and Wetland Plants of Northeastern North America, Volumes One and Two by
Garrett E. Crow and C. Barre Hellquist, University of Wisconsin Press, 2000. An
exhaustive reference work which identifies pretty much any plant you are likely to come across
while wandering through bogs, marshes, swamps and other wetland areas in the northeastern United
States and Canada. A professor of plant biology at UNH, Crow has been investigating aquatic plants
for more than three decades.
Management by R. Dan Reid and Nada R. Sanders, John Wiley & Sons,
2001. For Reid, a UNH associate professor of operations management, and Sanders, operations
management affects every aspect of life. The book focuses on how operations management fits into
the business environment.
Gravity by Peggy Rambach '82, Steerforth Press, 2001. This novel,
based on the author's relationship with writer Andre Dubus, chronicles the rise and fall of a