Sunday, November 7, 2010

Haint Blue by Carl Linke

From the first pages of Carl E. Linke's Haint Blue, the reader is transported south to Beaufort, South Carolina, and its Lowcountry heritage and traditions.  Spanish moss festoons the trees in front of stately old homes.  Feasts of shrimp and grits, oysters, hushpuppies, sweet tea and pecan pie fight the air for dominance with magnolias and gardenias. The book's title comes from an old belief that ghosts (haints) won't cross water and painting ceilings, doors and windows haint blue protects the inhabitants from them.   Church is a big priority, followed closely by the fortunes of the local high school and college football teams.  Above all else is the closeness to the land and the fortunes tied to the bounty found by fishing and farming.

But there is a darker side.  This is an area built on the cruelty of slave labor.  The descendants of those slaves, the Gullah people, are still here, mired in poverty with few prospects for work as the old powerhouses of the economy, seafood, tobacco, textiles and furniture leaves for other areas.  Outside interests want to buy up property because of its location and charm, but then build megamalls and residential subdivisions that take away the very things they chased to the area.  There are still vestiges of voodoo, Tarot cards, hexes and superstition.

Kip Drummon is caught in the middle.  He bought the local oyster factory six years ago, and built a life in Beaufort for his wife and stepson.  Now, he is being pressured by investors to sell the property, and they are playing hardball, buying off his suppliers and giving better prices to his buyers, squeezing the life out of the company bit by bit.  His wife hates the area and wants to move back to her native Charleston.  But on the other side, the workers who have worked in the factory their entire lives depend on him.  Without the factory, there will be nowhere for them to make a living wage.  Will Kip be able to keep his head and make the right decision?  He is haunted by a deep secret that influences everything he does, and along with the other pressures, it threatens to come out. 

Carl Linke has written a solid debut novel.  He has captured the feel of the Southern Lowcountry so well that the reader can close their eyes and be there immediately with the sights, sounds, smells and tastes that seem more realistic than the room they sit in.  His descriptions of tailgating parties, a typical Southern church service, the suddenness of weather changes, the aftermath of hurricanes, and the tensions between those born in the area and those moving in are spot on.  The reader will want to find out what happens, and how Kip resolves his dilemma.  This book is recommended for readers interested in regional writing that also hits broader themes of how the country moves forward to a new economy, and how people from different backgrounds can live together.

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