Hay­low

Gray Ste­wart

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction - MEG NOLA

Liv­ingston Press Soft­cover $18.95 (293pp) 978-1-60489-174-4

With a surety of time and place, this bit­ing novel de­picts a South still marked by racism.

In Gray Ste­wart’s in­trigu­ing Hay­low, Travis Hem­perly is lured back to his home­town of At­lanta by a sur­pris­ing job of­fer to teach his­tory at one of the South’s old­est Africanamer­i­can col­leges, as one of its few white fac­ulty mem­bers.

Ste­wart’s knowl­edge of the South gives Hay­low a surety of tone and place. The novel is set in 1996, af­ter the Olympics close and the fan­fare and chaos around them fi­nally die down. Though Travis is a Ge­or­gia na­tive, he’s lost his South­ern ac­cent af­ter years up north; mean­while, his father, Henry, is an old­guard South­erner and hosts a ra­dio show on Con­fed­er­ate Talk Ra­dio.

Ste­wart’s di­verse char­ac­ters form a co­he­sive story, re­lated with in­sight and few judg­ments. Rhett, Travis’s shifty skin­head neigh­bor, hates the po­lice, mi­nori­ties, and even a few white peo­ple. Travis’s Un­cle Ge­orge, a “Bud­weiser and bour­bon man,” lives in the Blue Ridge moun­tains with his fish­ing rod and ri­fle, try­ing to stave off old age and a chang­ing world. Fel­low pro­fes­sor A. B. Long­man proves to be Travis’s true friend re­gard­less of color lines, wel­com­ing him to the realm of “Black­ademia.” And Dr. Kwazi Kala­mari—an­other fac­ulty mem­ber—is par­tic­u­larly mem­o­rable, with rad­i­cal be­liefs now con­sid­ered re­ac­tionary by the col­lege ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Though Travis’s his­tor­i­cal purview was never fo­cused on African-amer­i­can mat­ters, his new teach­ing po­si­tion broad­ens his per­spec­tive. He re­calls a story his father once told, about the bru­tal mur­der of a black man, com­mit­ted years ago near his fam­ily’s tur­pen­tine farm in Hay­low, Ge­or­gia. Travis takes a spi­ral­ing path back to Hay­low, a swampy town “full of mean­ness and snakes.” This quest, cou­pled with Dr. Kala­mari’s out­rage-in­duc­ing dis­cov­ery of Henry’s ra­dio pro­gram, causes Travis to in­herit the sins of not just his father, but the gen­er­a­tions be­fore.

Through deftly al­ter­nat­ing per­spec­tives and with quiet, oc­ca­sion­ally bit­ing hu­mor, Hay­low de­picts At­lanta at the end of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, still marked by the Civil War and decades of racial con­flict yet mov­ing to­ward its fu­ture as a cap­i­tal of the New South.

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