ATLANTA LIVING & ARTS By Suzanne Van Atten
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Feb 24, 2023
Immerse yourself in these stories of love and war, Grit Lit, and Southern horror.
If you want to read a good book and also support a Southern writer who risks flying under the literary radar because they’re published by a tiny press or are self-published, check out these three very different novels.
Lynn Seldon may be a familiar name to readers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution because he and his wife, Cele, are frequent contributors to the Sunday travel section. Seldon’s new book, “Carolina’s Ring” (Köehlerbooks, $32.95), will appeal to fans of novels about the military. The coming-of-age tale set primarily in South Carolina explores the highs and lows of military academy training, the impact of 9/11 and the ravages of the Iraq War.
Twins Alf and Ben and their best friend Carolina enjoy an idyllic childhood in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. By the time they’re teenagers, both boys are in love with her, but Alf makes the first move, securing Carolina as his girlfriend and altering the dynamic of their trio forever.
After high school, the threesome splits up for college — Carolina goes to the University of North Carolina, Ben goes to the Virginia Military Institute and Alf goes to the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. The twins have very different experiences at their respective military academies. Ben thrives and falls in love with a female cadet; Alf becomes withdrawn and grows stoic in a way that’s troublesome. Suspicions arise that something bad happened to him at the Citadel, but Alf’s not talking. Then the twin towers fall, and by the time the boys graduate, the country is waging war in Iraq, and the global event changes everything for the trio.
“Carolina’s Ring” is the second in a trilogy of “Ring” books. The first one, “Virginia’s Ring,” was published in 2014 and was hailed as “a triumph and a tour de force” by Pat Conroy. “Georgia’s Ring” will follow.
Also containing military themes, but to a lesser degree, is the latest novel by George Weinstein, who is known to many a writer in town as the executive editor of the Atlanta Writers Club.
“Return to Hardscrabble Road” (SFK Press, $19.95) is proof that Grit Lit in the vein of Erskine Caldwell and Harry Crews is still alive and well. This sequel to “Hardscrabble Road” continues the saga of Roger “Bud” MacLeod, whose confidence was undermined at birth by a port-wine birthmark on his face and a stutter. The story begins with his arrival back home at the end of World War II on an emergency leave from the Army Air Forces. The reason? Bud’s mean-as-a-snake father has been shot dead, and the local consensus in their South Georgia community is that his promiscuous mother pulled the trigger.
The death brings out the worst in the MacLeod family, and they were already a rough bunch to start. Filled with eccentric characters, violent acts and absurdist humor, “Return to Hardscrabble Road” is a “wild ride through family devotion and a coming-of-age journey,” says “Becoming Mrs. Lewis” author Patti Callahan Henry.
Rounding out the trio of books is Frank Reddy’s novella “Cofer Woods” (self-published, $12.95), a tale of horror in a small Southern community where the townfolk are gripped by local lore concerning peculiar creatures that live in the forest.
The central character is Luther Cash, who’s still bitter over his recent divorce, but he’s trying to make a new life for himself in a trailer by the woods. Thanks to Facebook, he’s struck up a romance with an old high school friend; he gets to fish on a lake in the woods as often as he wants; and on weekends his beloved daughter Ellie visits.
One day Luther and his buddy Brooks are fishing, and they land a whopper of a catfish. To put it out of its misery, Luther crushes the fish’s skull with a rock and with that action kills the only friend to the monster of Cofer Woods. Resembling a tall naked man with long arms, big eyes, and a bald head, the mysterious creature wants revenge and begins to terrorize Luther, who fights for his life and the safety of his daughter.
You might want to sleep with the lights on after reading this haunting tale.
Suzanne Van Atten is a book critic and contributing editor to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Contact her at email@example.com.