Sunday Book Reviews – 10/18/20

Bookshelf books, photo by Alien Motives

The Sacred Call: A Tribute to Donald L. Hollowell, Civil Rights Champion by Louise Hollowell & Martin C. Lehfeldt (1997, FourG)

This biography examines the life of Georgia lawyer Donald L. Hollowell, a civil rights activist whose efforts, while significant in the fight for equal rights in the United States, have been largely overshadowed. The book provides details of a variety of key court cases where he was sole or lead counsel: the first successful defense in the state of a black murder suspect by a black lawyer, the release of Reverend Martin Luther King from jail following Atlanta-area protests, the desegregation of the University of Georgia.

The book has significant flaws. It’s hagiographic, with the authors focusing only on Hollowell’s legal wins and either ignoring losses or reframing them as tactical successes. Through the eyes of the writers, Donald L. Hollowell is a paragon of a man who was always motivated by pure intentions and who, despite described instances of personal abuse due to racial injustice that shaped his life, never used his position (he eventually became the first black regional director for the EEOC) for retribution. This is understandable and even endearing when one realizes that one of the co-authors was Hollowell’s wife, but it does cast some doubt on the book’s historical accuracy.

That said, the book provides an excellent snapshot of the difficulties faced by black Americans from the 1940s through the 1960s. While many books on the civil rights era are structured to draw parallels to contemporary politics, this book focuses almost exclusively on civil rights fights in the context of the time. With rare exceptions (a foreword by Hollowell protege and Clinton confidant Vernon Jordan, a criticism of Reagan for not supporting affirmative action) the book avoids addressing the years beyond 1970. This approach encourages readers of all political affiliations to consider the events independent of their existing biases, and I believe that serves the subject matter well.

One note: because it was produced in low numbers from a private press, the book is most likely to be found at libraries or priced up due to rarity.

The Hour of the Oxrun Dead by Charles L. Grant (1977, Doubleday)

Stephen King brought commercial success to the horror field in the 1970s. H.P. Lovecraft provided a sense of history beyond the iconic imagery of Poe. Peter Straub gave it respectability as a literary genre. Charles L. Grant, with his Oxrun Station series, provided a poetic soul to the field.

The Hour of the Oxrun Dead is the first in the Oxrun Station series, a group of novels and short stories set around a fictitious New England town. This is nothing new – Lovecraft had built most of his stories around a series of related locales and Stephen King would follow their lead with Derry and other areas – but Grant used the concept more to his advantage; while with the other writers, regular fans could get a smile and a nod at the inclusion of a reference to older books, Grant successfully interwove his stories. A tale with a deliberately uncertain ending would often have a coda in a later work, couched in throwaway lines… “…the toy shop of Tom Rogan, closed since he died saving his child” would provide the reader with information about what had happened following the ultimate scene of a prior book.

This story, being the first in the series, lacks the little nods which gave the series extra punch, but it provides a good example of the style which Grant brought to the field. His writing was focused more on mood and dialogue, and the reader sees glimpses of what would become standards in his work: sentence fragments instead of sentences, concentration on word sounds to evoke sensations.

The plot follows a widowed librarian who becomes entangled in the plot of a secret cult comprised of notable entities of the town, a cult with an eye toward gaining and expanding material power. The group was responsible for her husband’s death, and is going to kill others, possibly including her. It’s fairly trope-heavy, with the motivations and machinations of the antagonists commonplace, but the protagonist is well-developed, with the development of her new relationship handled particularly believably.

The book isn’t Grant at his best; he was just beginning to feel his way within a field which would shortly become overcrowded with both excellent and terrible writers during the 80s horror boom, and he was hindered by Doubleday; at that time, the publisher had a standard binding size and would insist that all non-“A list” authors fit their work into the binding required for their particular book. This meant that Grant needed to shave multiple pages from the novel, resulting in a rushed ending. Still, it’s an excellent introduction for a series that was consistently disturbing while steadfastly rejecting the “blood and guts” imagery which was to become prominent in the field.

This is Psycho, not Saw, and as such I can firmly recommend it to any reader looking for a vicarious thrill.

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About AlienMotives 1734 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.