Hyperion, May 2001, 23.95, 448 pp.
In 1961, , Mississippi is a tiny village consisting of mostly a dirt road lined by the shanty homes of sharecroppers. Families communicate with their neighbors mostly through chalkboards that hang off the front porches of their houses.
Just down a spell from CHALKTOWN lives the dysfunctional and impoverish Sheehand family, whose patriarch deserted them several years ago. Abusive mother Susan loosely raises her three children. However, in reality, the nearest thing to positive nurturing is sixteen year old teenager Hezekiah, who tries to help his rash sister Arena and his mentally incompetent brother Yellababy.
However, Hez seeks adventure perhaps to hide from his dismal existence. With Yellababy tied to his back, he journeys to the local metropolis of CHALKTOWN, planning to uncover the mysteries of the community as a means of escaping his gloomy present and his ugly past with seemingly nothing but a drab helpless future to come. However, with the hopefulness of the young, he will still seek a brighter future.
CHALKTOWN is a period piece that brings to life the late fifties and early sixties in rural Mississippi. However, the story line is that and more as it is a coming of age tale as Hez finds the eternal optimism of youth that one person can change the future for the better. With this novel and MOTHER OF PEARL, Melinda Haynes is stepping closer to earning the Faulkner mantle of consistent superb writer of the Southern novel.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner