Like Trees, Walking

( 8 )


Based on the true story of a modern-day lynching in America, Ravi Howard's widely acclaimed debut novel exposes one of the most tragic chapters in the history of the American South.

On the morning of March 21, 1981, in Mobile, Alabama, nineteen-year-old Michael Donald was found dead, his body badly beaten and hanging from a tree on Herndon Avenue. Brothers Paul and Roy Deacon of the Deacon Memorial Funeral Home are called upon to bury their close friend and classmate, and the ...

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Like Trees, Walking: A Novel

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Based on the true story of a modern-day lynching in America, Ravi Howard's widely acclaimed debut novel exposes one of the most tragic chapters in the history of the American South.

On the morning of March 21, 1981, in Mobile, Alabama, nineteen-year-old Michael Donald was found dead, his body badly beaten and hanging from a tree on Herndon Avenue. Brothers Paul and Roy Deacon of the Deacon Memorial Funeral Home are called upon to bury their close friend and classmate, and the experience will leave them forever changed. Along with other residents of their hometown, the Deacon brothers must struggle to understand the circumstances surrounding Donald's murder—the city's first lynching in more than sixty years and a gruesome reminder of racial inequalities in the New South.

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Editorial Reviews

James A. Miller
… Howard is a talent to watch, and this work introduces us to a fictional universe that we'll definitely want to encounter again.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Alabama native Howard revisits a 1981 Mobile, Ala., lynching in his debut novel, an extended version of a short story he wrote that won the 2001 Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Award. Narrator Roy Deacon, a 17-year-old seventh-generation mortician, is pressed into service after his brother, Paul, discovers a friend's body hanging from a camphor tree. Roy prepares the body for burial while the community's most fiery leaders rally to press the police to find a better explanation for murder than "a drug deal gone wrong." Throughout the commotion, Roy maintains a remarkable calm as he approaches the end of his senior year in high school, prepares bodies and attends to a distressed Paul. Howard combines these elements to create a slow pace and a mournful mood, though heavy description and overemphasis on metaphor remind the reader that this is Howard's first novel. Justice is meted out in an epilogue, and Howard uses the facts of the case to hit home the novel's premise: that even with justice, there are some stains that will never be erased by time. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Howard's carefully researched first novel is a fictionalized account of the lynching of an African American high school student in Mobile, AL, in 1981. The body is discovered by Paul Deacon, son of a prominent black funeral home director. Initially, three drug addicts are accused of the crime, but the case against them quickly falls apart, and no progress is made for several years, even though it is obvious that local Klansmen are the murderers. Paul's brother Roy recalls these events 20 years later as a grown man with a family of his own. Howard's novel is not primarily a whodunit or a police procedural, although it does have a strong CSI slant. The subject is really the city of Mobile and the rapidly changing Gulf Coast community two decades after the major struggles of the Civil Rights era. This book will remind some readers of Dennis McFarland's Prince Edward, also based on Civil Rights events. Recommended for high school and public libraries and book club discussion groups.-Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal

Adult/High School
Howard expands his Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright award-winning short story in this striking first novel that is set more or less in the present day. Middle-aged narrator Roy Deacon carefully recounts the lynching of a well-respected young adult in the Mobile black community in the early 1980s. The victim, Michael Donald, was a lifelong friend of Roy's older brother. As a reluctant upcoming mortician (Deacon Funeral Home has been in operation for six generations), Roy must face his and his brother's personal loss and the complex repercussions of racist violence while still performing the necessary functions of funeral preparation and arrangements. The well-formed cast of Mobile community members, the older generations who were raised before or during the Civil Rights era and the younger who were raised after, succeeds in demonstrating the dark range of emotion, from grim acceptance and a call to continued activism to flat-out disbelief and shifting fear. Howard's writing is precise and uncluttered and his attention to detail flawless, and his knowledge of local community, culture, and history adds depth. Teen readers will relate to the horror of witnessing such a brutal act in post-segregated America and appreciate the ensuing struggles and trials with which Roy is faced.
—Shannon PetersonCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“The verdict: A breathtaking debut.”
Shelf Awareness
“This is a gripping tale of evil and injustice, and a fine debut from a talented writer.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641995576
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/22/2008
  • Pages: 272

Meet the Author

Ravi Howard received the 2001 Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Award for College Writers for his short story "Like Trees, Walking." After graduating from Howard University, he received his MFA from the University of Virginia. His writing also appeared in The Massachusetts Review and Callaloo. A native of Montgomery, Alabama, Howard now lives in Mobile.

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Read an Excerpt

Like Trees, Walking

A Novel
By Ravi Howard

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Ravi Howard
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780060529598

Chapter One

Early Saturday Morning | March 21, 1981

Paul had always been a creature of the night. We both were. When we were children, our nocturnal habits were permissible only during Jubilees. We looked forward to staying up past midnight, and as the morning hours grew in number we watched the dim light collect itself at the edges of the sky. It was an innocent intoxication—that sleepless fatigue that comes while waiting for the tide. A strange disorientation took hold when I no longer had a night's sleep to separate one day from another.

We weren't the only ones awake. The cities were quiet on both sides, but the world along the water was a place of constant motion. Twelve hundred freighters passed through the narrow shipping channel every year on the way to the state docks up the Mobile River. The shipyards and factories, the gantries and cranes, the tall stacks that smoked up the sky day and night—these were our skyscrapers.

Even in those early hours, the lights at Gulf Land Paper were always burning, Easter and Christmas included. Even when I wasn't close enough to see the mill, sometimes I could smell it. As a child, I thought there was no stench worse than the sulfur fumes from the paper mill. The only people who couldn't smell itwere those closest to it. All the mill workers had nasal fatigue, when the fumes were so overwhelming that the nose could no longer detect them. Paul said that after a while the odor didn't bother him, but I could still smell it on his work clothes whenever he walked through the door.

My brother started working in the paper mill when he turned fifteen. Mr. Davie from across the street had worked for the mill for twenty years, and he was one of the first black supervisors. We had been in Mr. Davie's Boy Scout troop when we were young. I think some guys only joined because they knew he gave summer jobs to neighborhood boys he thought would make good workers. Most everybody wanted a plant position where they could make double or three times what they could get flipping burgers at McDonald's or stocking shelves at TG&Y. Paul liked his pay better than the $3.35 minimum wage my father paid me. I had asked for an even $4—would have settled for $3.50—but he said no.

"You need to understand how hard some folks have to work for a dollar," Daddy had said. He liked to lecture me on the big picture. Claimed that I'd appreciate all I stood to gain. All this would be mine, he had said once, standing in a room full of caskets.

I had never received a paycheck with a signature other than my father's, but Paul had never had to rely on him for money. He'd always known how to hustle for a dollar—paper routes, mowing lawns, cleaning gutters—or any of the itemized tasks listed on the "Paul Deacon Enterprises" flyers he stuffed in the neighborhood mailboxes. "Anything that you won't do, I can do for a dollar or two."

Before he even started working at Gulf Land, Paul already had plans for his wages. Our uncle Parnell had a Mercury pickup, something like the one Lamonte drove on Sanford & Son. For ten years, it had been sitting in his backyard, where the paint had oxidized and the tires had rotted. Paul offered him $300 for it, way too much, considering.

Mr. Davie had already promised Paul a job when he turned fifteen, but getting Mr. Davie's approval was only the half of it. He still needed our parents to say okay and sign the work permit. Paul tried Mama first.

"Your father and I'll have to talk about it," she told him.

Most times that meant no, especially since Daddy thought that the paper mill was somewhere other people's children worked, those without the benefit of a good education, middle-class upbringing, or a family business that was over a century old. He wasn't the kind of man who looked down on people, but he didn't make a habit of looking up to folks either.

"People talk about blue-collar work like it's an absolute virtue," he had said. "Some people do it because they have no choice. Either by their own doing or by the world being what it is. There's more to working hard than sweating for somebody's wage."

At that time, the sign in front of the funeral home read "Six Generations in the Service." As far as Randall Deacon was concerned, the seventh generation was a done deal. Before he had even heard about Paul's career aspirations that summer, he had already signed us up for the certification classes at Bishop State College. He even taught the field study courses at the funeral home and hoped we'd be among his students as we prepared to run the funeral home one day. Since I was thirteen, I had worked with my father, running errands, typing death notices, and whatnot. As soon as I got a license, I was driving the family cars I'd spent years washing. There was never a moment when I said, This is what I want to do. By then, I was already doing it. More and more, I'd heard my parents speak of what they planned to do in their retirement. Trips they would take, hobbies they looked forward to. The expectation seemed clear that soon after college, Paul and I would be responsible for the business. My father thought those odd jobs would be good training for the back-office side of things, but Paul was buying time. It was more than a phase. My brother had already told me that he had no intention of joining the business.

"I'll be damned if I ever drain blood from a body," he said.

My father had hopes of seeing Paul and me work in the funeral home together. Sometimes while I was there working, Daddy would slip and call me by my brother's name. The firstborn had always worked in the business, and my father had no idea things would be any different. Eventually, it would all come to a head when Paul worked up the nerve to give him that work permit. Daddy didn't say anything at first; he just worked that stare into Paul, waiting for him to explain.


Excerpted from Like Trees, Walking by Ravi Howard Copyright © 2007 by Ravi Howard. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2007


    Of all the titles placed along the 'new fiction' shelf, this was the most intriguing and foremost reason I read the book. Often I do not stray from literature and perhaps that is reason for my opinion. The writing is good though there are the expected awkward passages of a first novel. Sometimes I felt certain scenes were unnecessary and the detail I desired was rushed in at the last 10 or so pages. The novel begins with a focus on the prime event, and then shifts to Roy's life which is not very exciting or necessarily emotional/psychological/interesting. In fact the shift left me feeling indifferent towards the novel and disinterested in Roy until the very end. I think some of the ends were tied too tightly for the novels finish. The opening and closing sections were by far the best. Overall, a satisfying read.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    An education

    It's seems impossible a lynching could have occured in my lifetime, in 1981, but it did. Ravi Howard's novel reminds us of our country's dark history, which occured a lot more recently than any of us like to believe. Told from the point of view of a boy entering manhood and working at his father's funeral home, Howard deftly handles the many ties that both strangle and set a person free in a small Alabama town haunted by racial tension.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2007

    A reviewer

    This story tells the rites of passage for two brothers Paul and Roy Deacon. The Deacon family owns the Deacon Memorial Funeral Home. And it is a given that Paul and Roy will go into the family business. But all does not go according to plan. When their childhood friend Michael Donald is found hanging from a tree after being lynched, the lives of both Paul and Roy takes a drastic chagne. You see how they both deal with death, faith, and justice. I enjoyed reading this book. Even though it is fiction, the story is real. I love looking back at history, to see the struggles of our ancestors, and to see if any progress has been made to change all of the injustices that we are still facing. I would highly recommend this book for all to read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2007


    Like Trees, Walking is one of the best novels I've read this year. The story line of the book deals with so much going on today when you look at the Jena 6 issue, etc. What I like most about the book was the love the two brothers had for each other. I can't wait for the next book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2007


    I remembered these particular news events. The vivid descriptions and writing refreshed that memory. It was just like being there during that time period. Even though it is a fictional account this young man has captured that moment for us all.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2013


    Be on at or around 7:30 central

    0 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2013



    0 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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