Twelve years have passed since Nehemiah Trust left his hometown of Shibboleth, Alabama. Now a successful aide in Washington DC, Nehemiah is shocked when his brother Billy and high-school girlfriend Trice show up on his doorstep warning that something is stealing the life of what should be their idyllic hometown. Billy and Trice are convinced that only Nehemiah can help. As the three friends join together to save the place they call home, they learn the solution may require a willingness to sacrifice everything.
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About the Author
River Jordan is a storyteller of the southern variety and spent ten years as a playwright with the Loblolly Theatre group. She now teaches and speaks on "The Power of Story" around the country. She is currently completing a new work of fiction and a collection of essays.
Read an Excerpt
The Messenger of Magnolia StreetA Novel
By River Jordan
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 River Jordan
All right reserved.
Sunday, 11:36 P.M.
God is walking through Shibboleth, rummaging through the pockets of his memory, the distant past and the near future. The people of Shibboleth are sleeping, unaware of his presence or that he is considering them and their present circumstances.
He turns the corner of Magnolia and Main, observing that time has not passed well here but has come tearing its way along with such deceptive quietness that the people live unaware, tricked into silence. This isn't the way that the story of Shibboleth, keeper of an eternal key, was meant to unfold. Can one simple town be the keeper of something so precious you ask? And can that trust still stand when a hundred years have passed, have rolled their way along into the over and beyond? Well, that's what you're here to discover and what I'm here to write down, because I am the Recorder of all that ever was, is now, or is yet to come. Tough job, you say. Well, yes, of course, but then it's my created purpose until the end of -- yes, here's that word of elusive comportment -- time. But enough about me. Right now you don't know beyond this moment. Only that currently the town of Shibboleth has the smell of rotten eggs. Of secret stealth and things that move along wishing to be left alone. You would notice this if you traveled here. If you were walking down the street in the twilight hours of the evening, you would feel it under your skin, would look over your shoulder twice, possibly even three times, wondering if someone, or something, were following. And if you were fast enough on your feet, you might see a dark mist hovering above the ground like the breath of an unseen predator. Watch closely now, it's breathing in and out of the very ground, the very foundation of Shibboleth. An inky blackness that hovers and moves at will. You might see it but not the good citizens. As I told you, they are sleeping. In their spirits and in their minds. Some of them have forgotten that the dark passages of their childhood imaginings are relative and real. That their guarded treasure was the Key. The eternal fact that one hope, one dream, one falling wish is worth protecting. Of such simple things the world is made, and kept. In this clear fact, the good people of Shibboleth knew for certain who they were and what was meant to be. In a more distant past, all of Shibboleth knew this. Pilgrimages were made, one by one, or in hand-held groups, down a well-worn path where wild violets bloomed in the grass, to the repository of all their heart's well-worn desires, their spirits best-said prayers, the Well. Coin by coin they cradled wishes and cast them off, dropping them like falling stars into the clear spring water waiting. And in due season, when time passed into time, the dreams and wishes would manifest on the breath of their believing. And the Key was so well protected, so well kept, that the people breathed a heavy sigh of satisfaction, and rested. But their rest fell into a time of rest and then a time of forgetting.
Now look. I stand at the forgotten path, weed-eaten and overgrown. The Well now dry. And my wings tremble with so much loss, while time moves forward full of empty.
On the surface, Shibboleth is still very much the same as many small Southern towns you've driven through on your way to somewhere else. There is a town square (more of a circle really) that holds Shibboleth City Hall, Kate's Diner, Zadok's Barbershop, Obie's Salon for Women, a Piggly Wiggly grocery, and on the far reaches of the square, the old PURE station, which has been closed now for many years. The post office is inside City Hall. There are no parking meters, and people can park and take care of business for as long as business takes.
In the middle of this circle is a large Heritage Oak tree. Shibboleth is full of oaks, water oaks and scrub oaks to name a few, but this one is the granddaddy of them all. It has an official plaque that tells how many wars it has survived and that it is so old it was here before America. In the minds of the people of Shibboleth, that's farther back than anyone needs to go.
From a low-flying hawk's eye, depending on the season, you can see fields of cotton and of corn, rows of beans, or rows of collards, mustard greens, and potatoes. But regardless of the season, what will strike you most is the sleepy patchwork pattern fashioned from the living essence of these kindred souls. You will hear people's voices rising on the air, their hands clapping with excitement at the telling of their stories, or the softhearted music of their listening to the stories of another. And on happy occasions, grand occasions, you will catch them buck-dancing until they are red-faced and breathless. I have watched this melody of life for more years than you've been steady on your feet. It is the dance of time.
The people in this small town are busy with the charms of contentedly raising their children, and their children's children, and with the ultimate blessing of divine grace, their children's children's children. One generation after the next gazing over their shoulders at children in the yards or up the trees, calling, "Not too far. Not too high." To the people of Shibboleth, children are the very essence, the future of their faith in everything everlasting and good to the last drop. They memorize the size of their hands, the smell of their sweaty hair, the expressions in their large, trusting eyes, their growing games and funny sayings. And they will tell the stories of their babydom till kingdom come.
Excerpted from The Messenger of Magnolia Street by River Jordan Copyright © 2005 by River Jordan. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Messenger of Magnolia Street is a beautifully kinetically charged spiritual adventure into the mystery of the human soul. It exemplifies how important the interaction of our daily lives are from the smallest thing such as a coin tossed into the wishing well of time to the willingness to stand in evil¿s way for a dear brother. The waters flow deep and clear from River Jordan.
Something is wrong in Shibboleth, the home of Nehemiah, Billy, and Trice, currently young adults but raised together from childhood. Nehemiah left Shibboleth after the death of his mother and went to Washington, DC to build a successful career for himself. One night Billy and Trice show up at Nehemiah's door to tell him he is needed in Shibboleth because something is seriously wrong, and Nehemiah must go back there to make everything right again.When Nehemiah returns, he finds that Shibboleth is not as he remembered it. The town is drying up, and the inhabitants seem unable to cope with that fact, nor can they arrive at solutions to prevent further decay. It is up to Nehemiah, Billy, and Trice to find a way to save their home town. All they really have on their side to do this is faith and hope. They have no idea if that will be enough.River Jordan has a gift for writing beautiful, elegant prose that is difficult, if not impossible, to put down. She has a way of defining her characters and situations as though she's sitting right there beside you on the front porch swing explaining her story as you hang onto every word. Her characters have depth, and each of them is unique in how they view themselves and their surroundings.Best of all, The Messenger of Magnolia Street is a book to be kept and re-read. It is a novel of love and hope; of good vs evil; of the power of the human spirit. It is exactly what I would have expected from someone named "River Jordan".
Beautiful love story. Reminded me in places of the movie, Back to the Future. Great prose. Couldn't put it down.