Remember Birmingham in the early 1960s? Then you remember Sheriff Bull Connor, the man at the center of this novel by the author of Night Ride Home (LJ 8/92). He's everything you recall: mean, nasty, overweight, and bigoted. He is also a man tormented by the past and the future that will destroy all he knows and understands. The "hotel," once a bordello, is Dinah's. She lives there in the summer of 1961 with her husband, Pete, and children, waiting for a new home to be built. Angel, a young freedom rider, and Sugarfoot, a reporter, are the hotel's only other residents. Pete and Dinah are trying to move into this new world, one they know is right, and away from their past lives. Connor's physical presence pervades the book, along with his hatred and inability to cope with the coming changes, and behind it all looms the specter of Dinah's snake-handling preacher father. The rest of the cast are good people caught up in the turmoil. This is a spellbinding look at a place and time most readers can hardly fathom. Recomended for most fiction popular collections.-Barbara Maslekoff, Ohioana Lib., Columbus
In her fourth novel, Covington (Night Ride Home, 1992, etc.) threads the racial unrest of Birmingham, Alabama, in 1961 into the already complicated fabric of one white family's lifeand pulls it all together with real, if uneven, tension.
Dinah Fraley was 12 when her prostitute mother was murdered by vigilantes and she was bundled off to live with the man alleged to be her father, an evangelistic country preacher. In 1961, Dinah, now in her 30s, is securely married to Pete, a foundry-worker. The couple and their two children are temporarily living in the Crescent Hotel, which Dinah owns and which is in fact the former brothel where she spent her childhood. The shadow of the past that follows Dinah takes its most persistent form in the constant presence of a man named Bull Connor. Connor was in love with Dinah's mother, hints that he may really be Dinah's father, and intrudes daily into the life of the Fraley family. He's also Birmingham's "Commissioner of Public Safety" and has made it his private mission to keep blacks and whites from mingling. Thus he can hardly stand it when the Fraleys take in one of the freedom riders from a busload who arrive in town on Mother's Day. And when Pete Fraley makes a personal gesture of friendship toward a local black family, it sends Connor over the edge. All of this makes up a story that Covington approaches obliquely sometimes, complicating the narrative with shifting points of view, especially when she slips into the minds of more marginal characters. But Dinah, Pete, and especially Connor are complex and skillfully drawn. And Covington never takes the easy way out. When Connor's craziness seems ready to explode, she doesn't opt for the violent climatic scene that might have been obvious but, rather, leaves us with something more subtle and far more hauntingthe picture of a man with nowhere left to go.
Compelling themes, strong depictions of a time and place, though a narrative style that's still waiting for some judicious pruning.