Magic Time
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Magic Time

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by Doug Marlette

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Born and raised in Mississippi, Carter Ransom came to New York as a young man and has risen to become a columnist with a major city newspaper. But when his life in New York falls apart and he heads back home to recover, the still-live conflicts of his youth in the civil rights era rise up all around him again. A twenty-five-year-old murder case has just been


Born and raised in Mississippi, Carter Ransom came to New York as a young man and has risen to become a columnist with a major city newspaper. But when his life in New York falls apart and he heads back home to recover, the still-live conflicts of his youth in the civil rights era rise up all around him again. A twenty-five-year-old murder case has just been reopened, a church bombing that killed Carter's first love. Carter's father was the judge in the case, and now there's evidence that the trial was flawed, even fixed, and the case's reopening threatens the foundation of Carter's identity, as well as his relationship to his family.

Moving between New York City and the New South of the early 1990s, with flashbacks to Mississippi's Freedom Summer of 1964, Magic Time is at once a powerful love story, a courtroom drama, and a complex portrait of the civil rights revolution.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Doug Marlette has captured something essential about the spirit of our age.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Glorious and deeply moving. Perfectly captures a time of epic change.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A compelling legal thriller, touching tribute, and zesty love story rolled into one.” —The Boston Globe

“Doug Marlette unravels a powerful plot that straddles every genre, from historical fiction to love story.” —Daily News (New York)

“Charming, engaging, and gripping . . . Magic Time presents a realistic portrait of the collective amnesia of the South and the generational tensions that the civil rights movement stirred up, then and now.” —The Washington Post

“A compulsively readable style and a wry sense of humor . . . There are no signs of a sophomore slump here. Magic Time usefully reminds us of a dark moment in our nation's recent past, of what has changed and how much has not.” —The Star-News (Wilmington, North Carolina)

“Marlette skillfully twines the raucous immediacy of things present with the misty remembrance of things past to demonstrate afresh how these two universal abstractions play off each other and ultimately lead us to meaning.” —The News & Observer

Magic Time ultimately succeeds as both a heartfelt novel and a serious one too, under-girded by a keen eye for historical and social detail, driven forward by a sense of justice, and revealing in so many instances a sometimes-surprising optimism and a generous sense of humanity.” —Metro Magazine (North Carolina)

Magic Time has wonderfully drawn characters and is a good tale, all around.” —The Sun News (Myrtle Beach)

“Marlette's sense of place and his belief in the authenticity of the Southern voice is powerful.” —Chattanooga Times Free Press

“Doug Marlette takes us deep into the heart of America, and deeper into the American heart. Marlette writes with acuity and intelligence, with broad humor and a precise, loving attention to detail. His past and present not only lives and breathes, it lingers and haunts your soul.” —Joe Klein, author of Primary Colors

“Doug Marlette asks urgent questions about society and directs us to look for the answers within our own hearts. His kind intelligence shows through in every word. He's one of my favorite writers.” —Kaye Gibbons, author of Ellen Foster

“I have always loved that word 'page-turner,' and that is just what Doug Marlette has given us with Magic Time. He bridges the modern South to one of its bleakest, most violent periods and does so with a story that you can't put down. I love the way Marlette brings my South to life with all its glory and warts. With this book, with the dilemma that modern-day Southerners find themselves in because of their ancestors' actions, we see once again what Faulkner meant about how the past isn't dead, or even past.” —Rick Bragg, author of All Over But the Shoutin' and Ava's Man

“Doug Marlette knows how to make a reader turn the page, again and again, with rising excitement. But he's after more than that in Magic Time. He sets out to fill in the canvas of the modern South with the darker colors of its history. He shows us every kind of Southerner, from the noblest to the worst. He makes his characters answer for who they are and where they come from, but he loves them--all of them. We can't ask for more from a novelist or a novel.” —Mark Childress, author of Crazy in Alabama and One Mississippi

author of All Over But the Shoutin' and Ava's Ma Rick Bragg
I have always loved that word 'page-turner,' and that is just what Doug Marlette has given us with Magic Time. He bridges the modern South to one of its bleakest, most violent periods and does so with a story that you can't put down. I love the way Marlette brings my South to life with all its glory and warts. With this book, with the dilemma that modern-day Southerners find themselves in because of their ancestors' actions, we see once again what Faulkner meant about how the past isn't dead, or even past.
Publishers Weekly
When a terrorist group bombs a Manhattan museum, New York Examiner columnist Carter Ransom suffers an emotional breakdown and returns to his Mississippi hometown, Troy, to convalesce. Carter's father, Judge Ransom, has just retired after 40 years on the bench there; his most famous case was presiding over Troy's national disgrace: the Shiloh Church bombing, in which four civil rights activists died in 1965. At the time, Carter was a local rookie journalist who met and fell in love with Sarah Solomon, one of the volunteers who died. One man was convicted, but the instigator, Samuel Bohanon, the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, went free. Now, as Carter begins to understand that he has never fully come to terms with Sarah's death, an ambitious young state attorney is reopening the Shiloh Church bombing case-and she's going after Bohanon, along with anyone who stands in her way, including Carter's father, who, rumors say, threw the first trial to spare Sam. While this capacious second novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning Kudzu cartoonist Marlette (The Bridge) doesn't travel any new turf (and despite the over-the-top climax), the author writes of the South with such affection that the novel becomes one of those stories a reader doesn't mind revisiting. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In Marlette's second novel (after The Bridge), investigative journalist Carter Ransom returns to his deceptively quiet hometown of Troy, MS, after a mental breakdown only to face ghosts from the Sixties. At that time, local Klansmen had burned a church, killing both worshipers and civil rights activists. One hit man was sent to prison by Carter's father, Judge Mitchell Ransom, but now, decades later, he has been paroled and after a change of heart turns states' evidence to convict others at the top. The trial for the accused, Sam Bohanon, a local businessman and former imperial wizard, opens old wounds and puts Troy in the media spotlight. Carter fears that his father covered up the real killers' identity to protect an old family friend, and he even suspects his father was being blackmailed over his affair with one of the Klansmen's wives. Childhood friends, memories of a more "magic time," and an attractive federal prosecutor help Carter sort through his uncertainties. Marlette, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist, has written a powerful and eloquent novel filled with all the emotions and fury of the early Sixties. Highly recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/06.]-Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Grand Junction, CO Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A middle-aged New York columnist re-explores a personal tragedy that occurred during the Civil Rights era. The son of Judge Mitchell Ransom has been in New York for some time, a rising star in the newsPerfectly captures a time of epic change. An exceptional work of Southern fiction.

Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.31(d)

Read an Excerpt


Carter ransom awoke curled up in the backseat of his sister's Mercury Grand Marquis. The metronomic ticking of tires against scored pavement penetrated the pharmaceutical fog, and he pushed up on his forearms to look out the window. They were speeding along the interstate that flatlined across the Black Belt of southern Mississippi.

"You slept good," said Sally. He caught her anxious glance in the rearview mirror. He raised himself up until he could see his own reflection. There were dark circles under his eyes, and his jawline was shadowed with stubble, his thick brown hair matted. He still had on the black and gold Vanderbilt sweatshirt his sister had found in a chest of drawers in his apartment in New York and brought to the hospital for him to wear on the trip. It was a present Emily had gotten him for his birthday.

"How close are we?" Carter asked.

"Just north of Meridian," said Sally. "We're almost home. Go back to sleep if you want."

He stretched and looked around. One leg was still numb, and his back muscles were tight from the long ride south. He felt thirsty but was too weak to open the ice chest on the floorboard beside him to see if there were Cokes inside. Instead he retrieved the pillow he had been resting his head on, gathered it up close to his chest, and sank into the backseat vinyl to stare out the window. The medication made his throat dry and his brain furry. Nausea overcame him as a profound agitation blossomed again in his stomach.

"Sally, what's going on?" he said. He leaned forward and placed his forehead against the seat back, turning slightly to squint through the glare of the side window at the barren Mississippi landscape whizzing by.

"You passed out in the newsroom, remember?" Sally spoke in a conscientiously neutral tone, as if she were describing the weather.

Carter stared out at the scrub pine, the red clay, and the heavy equipment of highway construction, trying to focus on what his sister was saying.

"You were in the hospital a few days but checked yourself out. Your editor, Mr. Dennehy, offered you some time off, but you insisted on returning to work." Carter had not missed a deadline for a couple of weeks. Then, Sally explained, one day he did not show up for work or answer the phone. His colleague Gelman found his bicycle unlocked on the stoop. When Gelman's knock on the door got no answer, he called a couple of his police buddies and they broke in. "They found you passed out on the floor in your bedroom and took you back to the hospital," Sally said. "The doctor said it was nervous exhaustion and malnutrition." She hesitated. "He also mentioned symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder."

Carter looked back into the rearview mirror, knowing his sister would be watching for his reaction. He felt a jab of indignation. "Fuck that," he said under his breath. The thought that his condition might have a diagnosis made him feel even worse.

When he surfaced again from a dreamless highway slumber, the car was stopped at a gas station. He could see Sally inside paying. She returned with some peanuts and Nabs and seemed grateful when he tore them open. Back on the road, Carter sipped a Coke and looked out on the increasingly familiar landscape. He sat up fully for the first time. "This is a bad idea, Sally."

"You don't need to be by yourself, Carter," Sally said with a quiet finality.

"You should have left me in the loony bin," he said.

Sally said, "Ashland is not a loony bin."

"You're right. Troy is the loony bin."

The last time Carter had been back to his hometown of Troy, Mississippi, was a couple of years earlier, when he had taken Josh and Emily on the grand Southern tour. They spent one night in Troy. Carter had seldom returned since his mother died ten years before and he had left the Atlanta paper and moved to New York. On the rare occasions he visited, he had calculated to a science the length of time he and his father could spend under the same roof. Forty-eight hours, max, before one of them uttered the words I have to take a walk.

"You need to rest, Carter. You need to be around people who love you and can take care of you."

"But I've got a life, Sal. Responsibilities. I've got deadlines—"

"Dennehy said he could manage without you for a while."

As much as Carter cringed at the thought of recuperating in Troy, he knew that once Sally had set a plan in motion, she saw it through. She offered him a bit of her Hershey bar.

"Daddy's excited you're coming, Pross," Sally said. Pross, short for Prosecutor, was a pet name his father called him when he was a boy. The name remained current among only a handful of people.

"How is the judge?"

"Not bad for a seventy-year-old." Since retiring from the federal bench for health reasons, their father had rallied and returned to his law practice. "The firm's having a fortieth anniversary party in a few weeks," Sally said. "Don't tell Daddy, but the new connector's going to be named after him. The Mitchell T. Ransom Expressway."

"What is it, a dead end?"

Sally laughed. "You can come to the party if you feel up to it."

Carter forced a smile. "I don't know how you take care of him."

"Oh, he's no bother. He's dialed it back a lot in recent years. You'll be surprised. He's a good grandfather to Willie, and Willie's devoted to him." Sally's ex, a tax lawyer, had run off with his paralegal when Sally was pregnant with their now six-year-old son. "Besides," she continued, "when you're a bookseller in a town that doesn't read, having no house payment is a godsend."

"Thought of hiring a nurse?"

"Oh, Mr. Primary Caregiver's offering advice now."

Sally had turned on her signal and was moving into the right lane. Carter felt an involuntary pang of love/hate when he saw the green exit sign, troy historic district.

"How's business, Sally?" He knew how hard it was for her to be away from the shop. And although she would never complain, he felt guilty for being the reason she had to take off.

"Could be worse. The town's changed considerably. You're not going to recognize it."

"That's reassuring."

"The college is Troy University now, you know. Our generation's finally grown up and taken over. The mayor's black, and a couple of council members. There's even an artists' collective in Troy."

"Black-velvet Elvises? Popsicle-stick birdhouses?"

"Ha-ha. There's also a clique of writers developing."

"Ah, Mississippi. Where they write more books than they read."

The conversation had exhausted Carter. He reclined in the seat. Sally had turned off the interstate onto old U.S. Highway 17, the narrow two-lane blacktop that was the only route north out of town in his youth, before the interstate. It was the road he had traveled with his family on vacations, with his basketball team to games in Meridian or Columbus, with church groups to gospel sings in Jackson, and it was the road that took him away from home to college and law school back when the future had seemed knowable.

Except for a few stray billboards promoting products and companies that had not existed in the 1960s, the scenery along the highway remained much as it was during his boyhood—a corridor of unbroken green cutting through incipient hills of pine forest, giving way occasionally to sunbaked farmland, open fields of soybean, corn, and watermelon, or pastures occupied by melancholy herds of humidity-stunned cattle. The relentless sun seemed to have drained the fields of all vitality and through some perverse photosynthesis transmuted an excess of chlorophyll to the lush kudzu, which crept up guy wires and draped telephone poles.

The highway grew clotted with slow-moving trucks hauling lumber, forcing an adjustment of speed and expectation for miles before one reached the city limits, as if returning to Troy required a slowing of metabolism to the velocity of molasses. As they passed the old Troy Casket Company and its sprawling new facility, Carter caught his first whiff of the changes that had come to his hometown. The company's whimsical contemporary logo seemed suited more to a wine emporium in Jackson than to the sides of the parked trucks that would deliver their sad cargo all over the Southeast.

"Lige has been in town a lot campaigning for reelection," Sally said as they pulled into view of the town square. "I'm sure he'll be coming by to see you."

In Mississippi the past had a way of superimposing itself on the present, and Carter experienced that familiar twinning of realities as he made out the old Kress's logo bleeding through the whitewashed brick on the building rising before them: a personal landmark. It was now abandoned, a sign on its soaped windows announcing its next tenant, an organic foods market.

As they circled the courthouse, Sally said, "Look, Pross. See anything different?" She pointed toward the street on the south end of the square. Carter scanned the intersection he had known so well as a child, and he spotted the statue erected on a traffic island in the distance, a small cast-bronze figure of a man with one hand lifted heavenward in a gesture of command. "Guess who that is."

"The Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan."

Sally laughed and groaned. "Oh, Lord, it's going to be a long convalescence. No, it's Hugh. Remember how he used to direct traffic in front of the Starlite Cafe?"

Hugh Renfro, the retarded son of a respected local physician, had been a well-known town character, sort of like a gregarious Boo Radley. Hugh was always engaging drivers and pedestrians on the streets in conversation and speaking for the most part in rhyme. "Hey, pretty girl in your new spring dress, I'll ask you to marry me and hope you'll say yes."

"Hugh got hit by a pulpwood truck a couple of years ago," Sally said. "The whole town turned out for his funeral. The city council voted to put up a statue to him, and I think Dad kicked in some money. They even commissioned the sculpture in Memphis."

Carter took a slow, deep breath. Troy had been the birthplace of at least two world-class athletes—an Olympic runner and a pro football great—as well as a famous mezzo-soprano with the Metropolitan Opera. But those local achievers were black, and it had been decades before the hometown named streets after them—in the historically black district. When the city finally got around to erecting a statue to a native of distinction, it was to a certifiable idiot, who happened to be white.

Welcome home to Troy, Mississippi.

Copyright © 2006 by Doug Marlette. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Doug Marlette has won every major award for cartooning, including the Pulitzer Prize. His award-winning first novel, The Bridge, was published in 2001.

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Magic Time 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read Marlette's first novel and wouldn't have read another except my book club picked "Magic Time." I am so glad they did! This is a very well-written book about the civil rights movement in the south and the way in which its impact on a young man affected him decades later. Interesting, moving, a wonderful read - one of those that you don't want to end so you start reading more slowly.