My Friend Sam

Jane Miller

  • The rock cried out by Ellen Douglas
    Virago, 303 pp, £5.99, June 1990, ISBN 1 85381 140 8
  • Can’t quit you, baby by Ellen Douglas
    Virago, 256 pp, £12.95, June 1990, ISBN 1 85381 149 1

The landscape of Ellen Douglas’s Mississippi is designed to keep us out, to resist recognition; and the lines of its knobs and bluffs and ridges may be deciphered only by those who have been born and bred amongst them. For the rest of us they are edged but also obscured by lovingly named plants, by smilax, trillium, scuppernog vines and plum thickets. And the birds in their midst, the towhees, the goatsuckers, the magnolia warblers and juncos, do not sing to us out of some shared childhood, but out of memories we are adjured to hear as entirely different from our own. They will be mythic and mysterious memories, but they will also – so consciously Southern is this (and so much other) writing from the American South – be delivered with due attention paid to the clichés to be navigated therein. Leafless briars viciously obstruct the solitary wanderer in this landscape, and so does the barbed wire surrounding the government defence station, whose recent installation has added itself to a history of depredations of the land. It is as if it is only possible to enter these places and their past with a local guide and through literature.

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