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Fiction Review    



In a Temple of Trees
by Suzanne Hudson
MacAdam/Cage, 2003
Hardcover, $23.00 (355 pages)
ISBN: 1-931561-41-9

Out of the dark, shadowy swamps of southwest Alabama, where hunting season is an annual coming of age season for teenagers and grownup children alike, Suzanne Hudson has woven a splendid quilt of dramatic situations involving complex characters who grow out of the place just as surely as cypress knees poke through the mirror-still water of the swampland.

In the beginning, November, 1958, Cecil Durgin is a frightened 12-year-old who witnesses despicable acts by white men camouflaged as hunters in a secluded lodge called Camp DoeRun, where these staunch pillars of a decadent society kill deer, drink whiskey, butcher their kill, barbecue venison, and have their way with a local factory female employee who is ultimately slaughtered like the game they hunt in the woods. To the men, it is all a game; to the boy, it is a horror that remains with him throughout the years of his life.

With a deft pen, describing with remarkable subtlety the fecund fear that dwells in Cecil Dugin the man, the novelist fast-forwards to August, 1990, after her character has become a popular radio dee-jay playing gospel songs on a Sunday afternoon and delivering sermons with not-so-subtle undertones of political power. He is married to his beloved Earline but is having an affair with one of his protégés, Miss Kim “Honey Drop” Davis, thus thrusting himself into the same hypocritical world he has previously grown to distrust and even loath.

Through the ingenious use of Faulknerian flashbacks, Ms. Hudson, who currently lives in Baldwin County, builds her complex story, showing scene by scene, detail by minute detail, how Cecil Dugin became the man he is today. We discover the true identity of his father, and we are not shocked in the slightest when he is finally joined by his half-sister, a white woman who is married to the biggest hypocrite of them all. Although the reader is not shocked, because the writer has done the work of a verbal illusionist with sleight-of-hand perfection. The seams of her story are so beautifully woven together that the reader slides through the maze of wilderness that she describes without suspecting for an instant that this is indeed just a story; it is far more; it is the history of a people who live by a set of self-perpetuated commandments that they have invented for themselves, setting themselves away from the rest of society.

As she pieces together the scenes through the years of growth, as the characters, both black and white, intermingle in this small community near the Mississippi state line, the novelist who attended creative writing classes at the University of South Alabama under the guidance of John Craig Stewart, a literary disciple of Hudson Strode, invents a world that is well known to many southerners. It is a world many would like to forget. It is a world that mirrors the desires, the temptations, the disgust, and the frustrations of the real world. It is torrid, it is mind-boggling, it is real. Suzanne Hudson has captured that reality. When she describes the instant the razor-sharp knife enters the taut skin of the newly killed deer, when the reader feels the first chill of a winter morning in the dense forest, when the smell of a panting hound fresh from the hunt rises above the odor of a quick-spent shotgun shell, you know the writer has been there.

There is a good heft to “In a Temple of Trees.” It weighs something in your hands. The weight of its words lingers in the brain after the last word is read. The characters, especially Cecil and Sugar Lee “Shug” McCormick and Tammy Sims and Miss Sophie Price, resonate with truth and life long after the book is closed and put back on the shelf.

Wayne Greenhaw
Southern Scribe Reviews

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