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Mica Highways

Overview

A hypnotic tale of terror and temptation, William Elliott Hazelgrove's Mica Highways is an emotion-packed novel that deftly captures the unique landscape of the American South.  With its fierce vision of love, violence, and redemption, this powerfully haunting work recalls the intensity and passion of To Kill a Mockingbird and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

April 4, 1968.  To the world, it was the day an assassin's bullet struck down ...

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Overview

A hypnotic tale of terror and temptation, William Elliott Hazelgrove's Mica Highways is an emotion-packed novel that deftly captures the unique landscape of the American South.  With its fierce vision of love, violence, and redemption, this powerfully haunting work recalls the intensity and passion of To Kill a Mockingbird and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

April 4, 1968.  To the world, it was the day an assassin's bullet struck down Dr.  Martin Luther King Jr.  To Charlie Tidewater, it was the day that life as he knew it was over--the day his beautiful mother suddenly died.

Tamara Drake Tidewater was a descendant of one of Virginia's first families, and Charlie was only nine years old when she passed away.  The newspaper obituary said she died peacefully, but Charlie knows that the obituary was a lie.

Thirty years later, Charlie remains haunted by the mystery surrounding his mother's untimely death.  Newly divorced, he has returned to his childhood home near Richmond, down the glittering mica highways of rural Virginia.  He hopes that discovering how his mother really died will finally enable him to lay the ghosts of his troubled past to rest.  But the one man who can help Charlie has no intention of unveiling horrors he has spent three decades trying to hide.

To unearth the truth about Tamara's death, Charlie must delve into the darkest corners of the Old South, into its twisted secrets and decadent desires.  Shifting seamlessly between Charlie's present-day search for answers and the South's racially charged past, Mica Highways reveals the hidden sins of one small town with a dark history of burning crosses and cold-blooded murder.

A searing fusion of fact and suspense fiction, Mica Highways is as compelling as it is disturbing--a spellbinding and incisive tale from one of today's most gifted storytellers.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Born in Virginia, William Elliott Hazelgrove was raised in Richmond, Baltimore, and Chicago.  He attended Western Illinois University, where he received his master of arts degree in history.  He settled in Chicago and began writing full-time.  His first novel, Ripples, was published in 1992 and was awarded Editors' Choice by the American Library Association.  His second novel, Tobacco Sticks, is also available from Bantam Books.  He currently lives in Chicago.

From the Hardcover edition.

Library Journal
"American fiction is not dead," said LJ's reviewer of Hazelgrove's Tobacco Sticks LJ 7/95. That was a small-press publication, but Hazelgrove has since moved on to the big time. Here, down-and-out Southerner Charlie Tidewater stirs up trouble when he starts investigating his past, particularly his mother's death.
Kirkus Reviews
A well-constructed, intermittently moving, but awfully overwrought southern gothic melodrama by the author of Ripples (not reviewed) and Tobacco Sticks (1995).
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553762396
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/28/1998
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Southampton, Virginia
August 1998

Dusk settled on the dogwoods and oaks around the house and glowed beyond the field.  Granddaddy and Charlie sat on the deck in the bronze light of an oil lantern.  They were silent, somewhat exhausted from the yard work, dreamily full from the pizza Charlie ordered and Granddaddy insisted he pay for.  A clear mason jar, taking no light, giving back none, was between them on the iron settee.

". . . so, these old boys finally got tired of paying Snowball and me all their money, see," Granddaddy continued, pointing to the jar that began his story of the bootleggers.  "One time I raced them and won and this old boy named Buck said, 'We going to give you something different.' And I thought, What are these old bootleggers going to give me, see, I didn't know .  .  .  I was hoping they was going to give me money! But these bootleggers didn't like to keep giving away their money and Buck said I had to follow them into the woods."

Granddaddy sat up in his lawn chair.

"Must have been three or four in the morning, see, and we went down this long dirt road way back in the woods, and Snowball lookin' at me like I was crazy, because in those days the Klan was out in the country." Granddaddy stabbed at the horizon with his index finger.  "But--I knew I could always outrun those old bootleggers, or just about anyone else, with that coupe of mine.  Next thing you know--we come to a shack in the woods and the bootleggers stop their cars and this bootlegger--he later had a son also named Buck and I think the older Buck was paralyzed in an automobile accident runnin' from the police years later.  So--I follow him around to the back of the shack an' we come to this contraption, see, looks like a great big kettle with pipes coming out of the top."

Granddaddy leaned back, counting his speech with his finger.

"Now! I knew it was a still, because my cousin, Jimmy Lee, who is the great-nephew of General Robert E. Lee, had been making moonshine for years and the Richmond police never bothered him--there was a sheriff who ran the county and he was one of the biggest customers, so they never did have to worry about the law." His voice rose.  "So! These old bootleggers, Buck that is, takes one of these fruit jars," he continued, pointing to the mason jar on the patio table, "and filled it from the bottom of this kettle and I knew it was white lightning because it is the most awful-smelling stuff in the world! Buck said I could have as many jars as I could fill up and put into my car.  Moonshine was just as valuable as money in those days because nobody had any alcohol and people would pay enormous amounts of money for it.  So, Snowball and I started filling up these mason jars and put them in my trunk and my backseat." He paused, his bottom teeth taking light.  "And do you know, I sold every one of those mason jars by the week's end."

Granddaddy was on the edge of his chair, stabbing the darkness triumphantly.

"And, I made myself some good money doin' it! And I only kept one jar for myself and that's what you found under the sink and there it sits."

Charlie looked at the seventy-year-old jar of clear alcohol.

"Did you ever drink any of it?"

"Reckon I did," he murmured, nodding to the jar.  "But it's right strong and I never did care for the taste.  Now, I drank a lot of bootleg whiskey, see, but not moonshine."

Charlie looked at the white lightning again, the clear liquid gelling with evening.  He suddenly wanted to taste the crude liquid they drank on dusty roads and on evening-laden porches.  He wanted to taste a time when people didn't live so long and wars came up like spring storms and people listened to radios as the marvel of their age.  He wanted to taste the young century where an airplane was still a novelty, cars pulled up next to horses, and men who could remember Lee in sixty-five still walked the earth.  He wanted to look down from the vantage point of the wild ride to come in the middle of a depression, feel the cheap shoe leather wearing out and the hot black hood of a Model T with the blue oil smoke smelling slightly sweet, raw, primitive.  He wanted to taste all those people who sat on saggy springs in heavy Hudsons, Studebakers, Dodges, cars lugging down highways without speed limits or radar traps, lugging down roads where people still waved to a passing car because people weren't overloaded with people yet.  He wanted to feel the hit of bootlegged alcohol in a speakeasy or from a flask under a table.  Were these people so original?  Why are we such slaves to what they did before us?

Charlie looked at the jar, wanting to destroy the nagging present with the past.

"You think anything would happen to me if I drank some?"

Granddaddy frowned.  "You don't want to drink any of that stuff."

Charlie looked at the liquid again.

"I think I might take a sip--you don't think I'll go blind or anything, do you?"

Granddaddy turned.

"Lord, no!"

"I've just heard of people going blind from white lightning."

"Never heard that before." He turned back to the bottle.  "Now, you might feel a little sick from it--but you won't go blind."

Charlie picked up the mason jar, unscrewing the crusty top, vaporous fumes, much like gasoline, escaping.

"You sure this is white lightning, Granddaddy?"

"Reckon I am."

Charlie nodded, bringing the jar to his lips, displacing air with cold noxiousness, thinking once of ghost men with yellow lanterns brewing firewater as he drank of his grandfather's time in one large gulp.  He felt his nose drain on his lip, his eyes water, his stomach flaming.  He jumped up, slamming the jar down on the table, spitting into the yard.

"Oh, God!"

He couldn't stop spitting.  He wondered suddenly if he had drunk drain opener, thinking Granddaddy could have easily mixed up a chemical with what might have been white lightning.  Charlie felt the boiling torrent roll down into his stomach with the heat of a hot-water bottle pressed to his abdomen.  He fell to his knees and considered sticking a finger down his throat to save his life.

"Now! I never seen anyone drink like that!"

Charlie couldn't stop spitting, sucking any droplet of moisture from his tongue, settling for licking his palm to pull the fire off.

"Reckon that stuff is pretty bad after all these years," Granddaddy murmured.

Charlie got off his knees and sat down, the swell in his head coming on like a shot of novocaine.  The pain was fading, a fire burning down.  The dimming landscape of the yard sparkled clear in three-dimensional beauty.  Granddaddy saw the flush of his grandson's cheeks and the hot, soft gleam in his eyes.  He turned to the jar swishing light a half inch lower.

"Now, I better have a sip," he nodded to Charlie.  "Just to make sure you didn't drink any poison."

Charlie heard him like television or radio where the voice is disembodied.  Granddaddy lifted the mason jar, sniffing once with no wrinkle of emotion, drinking with a single bubble belching from the jar.  He set it on the table and put his finger in the corner of his eye.

"Lord!" He shook his head.  "Whooh!" He looked at Charlie glassy-eyed.

"Now! Whew! I forgot how bad that stuff tastes .  .  ." He shook his head again, pointing at the jar.  "Just goes to show you .  .  .  it's what you get used to.  We all used to drink that stuff and got used to the taste, see, because there was nothing else around."

Granddaddy shook his head again.

"But I think we used to mix that with something--I don't think we ever drank it straight--course we might have and thought it was alright--I just can't remember it tasting that bad."

Charlie was released into the warmth of the comforting night, sitting on the back porch of his own childhood.  He could see phantoms of past lives floating by in the lucent evening.  He looked at Granddaddy, feeling drowsy familial tides rolling over him.

"So Grandmother was in movies?"

Granddaddy nodded.

"Now, I don't know if she was ever actually in any movies.  But she went to California and had a screen test; see, I know that much, and that's because I went out there to get her."

"That's when you drove all the way to California?"

Granddaddy nodded, his starched shirt glowing in the half-light, evening in spaces between the trees.

"Yes sir, reckon I did, and it took me four and a half days to get there, but I did it, see."

Charlie felt the pulsing tempo of a thousand nights in the August gloam.

"You must have really loved her."

Granddaddy turned.

"Reckon I did.  Drove out there without a penny to my name.  Drove out there not yet twenty years old and didn't know anything beyond the city, see, didn't even have a map because most of the roads weren't in yet! I just pointed that coupe to the sun and drove as fast as I could, drove to bring her back." He relaxed slightly, leaning back into the chair.  "Reckon I did love her .  .  .  drove 'til I couldn't see and ran off the road so many times I lost count! If you can call them roads," he murmured.  "Lot of times they were just dirt and I was the only car, with just the moon to give me light, see." He sat up in the chair.  "Car lights weren't like they are today, they were dim, and would get dimmer a lot of times because you lost water in your battery.  But I'd turn the lights off if I could see with the moon and at times it was like day out there in that desert with great, big boulders, bigger than buildings, see, appearing out of nowhere." Granddaddy's hand cut across the night.  "In those days, there wasn't anyone to help you so I just kept on going, figuring I couldn't stop or I would be stuck." Granddaddy paused, talking to the darkness, his hand wisping down several times.  "I just pull into these ghost towns left over from the mining days and park my car up in the main streets and sleep, because wasn't nobody else there, except maybe some old ghosts.  .  .."

Charlie looked down at the mason jar again, dulled to the horrible taste.  He slipped the jar up, the warmth washing through him again.

"You better watch yourself, boy."

"Don't worry--" He shook his head, shivering wildly.  "I'm not .  .  ." He swallowed again.  "I'm not going to drink any more."

Granddaddy cleared his throat.

"Now! What happened with you and your wife?"

Charlie paused.

"I don't know."

Granddaddy leaned on his elbow, his jaw steadied by his forefinger and thumb.

"Now, it must have been something make you split up, see." Granddaddy shifted in the chair.  "Did y'all go out much? Did you take her out dancing?"

Charlie grabbed for a mosquito.

"No."

"Maybe that was it, maybe she wanted to go out dancing, see."

I didn't take her out dancing and why did I become like I did.  She just wanted someone to be with her.  I wanted to be a good husband but I couldn't take her out dancing.  That's all a woman really wants.  Just to go dancing every now and then.

Granddaddy reached for the mason jar, taking a swallow, setting it down with a small tink.

"Now .  .  ." He cleared his throat.  "A woman will not leave unless she is unhappy, see, or she thinks she's unhappy because people tell her she should be!"

Charlie turned slowly.

"Did you make Grandmother happy?"

Granddaddy stared at him.

"Reckon I did.  I did everything for her." He came back around, nodding slowly.  "She was happy; once upon a time, she was happy."

Charlie shut his eyes to the pulsing in his head.  The alcohol, which had been so friendly, was now a demon stirring up the mire and muck of bad feelings.  He looked at Granddaddy unsteadily, seeing the small man in the chair staring out at an uncaring vista.  He leaned forward, glimmering something he couldn't define.

"What about at the end .  .  .  was she happy at the end, Granddaddy?"

Granddaddy paused.

"She was happy," he murmured, staring into nothing.  "She just didn't know it.  .  ..  See, I did everything for her."

Charlie turned away, figures parading past him in the phantasmal darkness.  He sat with the man of his blood by the road they had marched together not knowing, looking out into the playing night warmth of all years unfelt.  Charlie was fighting the pounding again, squeezing out all sensation, hearing his grandfather's single word he wouldn't think of until later, breathed in a deep, mournful sorrow.

"Everything."

      

From the Hardcover edition.

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