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Friday, July 15, 2011

September September by Shelby Foote

Sex and kidnapping in 1957 Memphis

Shelby Foote is most famous for his massive history of the Civil War (The Civil War: A Narrative), but he was also an author of fiction. I have read several of them and they mostly qualify as Southern gothic - moody, dark and full of tragedy. September September fits that description perfectly, although it takes place later than his other novels.

Set against the backdrop of the racial integration of Little Rock Central High School in September of 1957, the novel features two white men and a white woman who kidnap the grandson of a wealthy black Memphis businessman. They use the Little Rock incident as their cover to blame the kidnapping on racial strife when it is really a brazen attempt to get $60,000 from a man who will not expect much cooperation from the police.

Shelby Foote (1916-2005)
The problem is summed up in a line from one of the kidnappers: "Truth is, we're not very smart, those of us who go in for crime." A sexual triangle forms between the three kidnappers. Anger and jealousy start to take precedence over "the plan" with tragic results.

Foote does a great job of creating characters with a past that feels real and his dialogue is first rate. The most interesting character to me was Theo, the grandfather who pays the ransom. His story would have been worthy of another book.

A surprising part of the book was the frequent and open discussion of sex. Racial tension is the topic of the book - racial strife in Little Rock, as the purported excuse for the kidnapping, as the source of anger in Eben's (the kidnap victim's father) burgeoning racial consciousness - but that is really a veneer. The real topic is sex and how it can strengthen, confuse and even weaken the bonds between men and women. There are quite a few graphic scenes, much more than I remember in his other novels.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on July 15, 2011.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: September September by Shelby Foote.

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