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  Historical Fiction Review   

 

 
Lay That Trumpet In Our Hands
By Susan Carol McCarthy
Bantam, 275 pages
Hardcover, $23.95   ISBN: 0-385-31428-0, 2002
Trade paperback, $12.95  ISBN: 0-553-38103-2, 2003
 
 
 

Susan Carol McCarthy in her debut novel has written a breathtaking tale based on real events in 1951 Florida. The powerful story follows 12 year-old Reesa McMahon, whose Yankee parents own a citrus grove, and the powder keg of events that broke the power of the Ku Klux Klan in Florida – a powerful force that included local law enforcement up to the governor’s office.

The novel opens with the murder of nineteen year-old Marvin Cully, who is mistaken by the Klan for a New Jersey black in the area.  Marvin works with his father Luther as citrus pickers for the McMahons, but more than that the families are friends.  Warren McMahon and Luther Cully are both choir leaders in their respective churches and share a love of the piano.  Together, Warren and Luther go out in the night in search for Marvin at a grove known for Klan activity.  They bring Marvin’s tortured body to the McMahon home, where Reesa loses her best friend and her innocence about their community. 

A reign of terror begins as black children no longer feel safe to play outside; a car with two NAACP assistants of Thurgood Marshall and two reporters are chased by the Klan; Reesa’s young brother is grazed by birdshot from a Klanman’s gun; and the home of voting rights activist Harry Moore is bombed on Christmas night killing him and his wife.  

Warren McMahon is not one to ignore the Klan activities.  He gathers as many facts as he can and sends it to the FBI.  After his son is shot, the battle line between the local Klan and Warren is drawn.  The power of the individual is a strong message of this novel. 

Lay That Trumpet In Our Hands is a poignant novel of the South’s dark days and the courage of the individual to create change.  McCarthy voice is lyrical at times as she describes the region, the snakes, the blue sky to the blue water.  The novel gripes the emotions through the events of horror, building tension in the community, and the dysfunction in families.  

Susan Carol McCarthy was born and raised in Orange County of pre-Disney Florida.  The daughter of independent citrus growers, she spent her childhood picking fruit with the crews, packing bushel baskets and pouring fresh-squeezed orange juice for the tourists who stopped by her family’s fruit stand on Florida’s Route 441 – the Orange Blossom Trail. 

Susan Carol McCarthy has been named the recipient of the 2003 Chautauqua South Fiction Award for her book. Lay That Trumpet In Our Hands was selected as a featured alternate by both the Literary Guild and the Doubleday Book Club.  The trade paperback edition will be released in April 2003.

 

Joyce Dixon
Southern Scribe Reviews

 

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