Excerpt from Song Yet Sung by James McBride, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Song Yet Sung

By James McBride

Song Yet Sung
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2008,
    368 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2009,
    384 pages.

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Print Excerpt


“I ­can’t think of none.”

“Sleep on it, then.”

“What about the code?” Liz asked.

“In due time. Sleep, child.”

“How can I sleep, knowing Little George might have at me now that I’m better?” Liz said.

“­Don’t you fret about him,” the old woman said. “Go back to sleep and wake up and tell me what you got.”

She turned to the others in the room and said, This ­two-­headed girl’s gonna bust us out. Big Linus, is you ready?

From the darkened corner of the room, the enormous nostrils of a large nose barely discernible in the darkness could be seen as the huge head pivoted to one side, the face still unseen in the dark shadows of the attic’s rafters. Liz heard a deep, baritone voice rumble:

“I been ready,” the voice said. “I been ready.”

Two days passed. No dreams came. But, true to her word, the old woman, in fading health, told Liz different parts of the code.

“Chance is an instrument of God,” she said.

“What’s that mean?”

“It means God rules the world. And the coach wrench turns the wagon wheel.”

“What’s a coach wrench?”

“­Don’t think, child. Just remember. Scratch a line in the dirt to make a friend. Always a crooked line, ’cause evil travels in straight lines. Use double wedding rings when you marry. Tie the wedding knot five times. And remember, it’s not the song but the singer of it. You got to sing the second part twice—if you know it. ­Don’t nobody know it yet, by the way. And find the blacksmith if ­you’re gonna marry. He’s doing marriages these days.”

“Who’s he?”

“Don’t matter who he is. It’s what he is.”

“And what’s that?”

“He’s part of the five points.”

“What’s the five points?”

“North, south, east, west, and free. That’s the fifth point.”

“How you get to that?”

“Gotta go through the first four—to get to the five. Five knots. Five directions. If a knot’s missing, check the collar. ­It’ll tell you the direction the soul is missing from.”

“I’m more confused than ever,” Liz said.

“Hush up, dammit!” someone said frantically. “Now y’all woke him up.”

Liz heard the creaking of heavy feet climbing the stairs and turned on her side, waiting, trembling. A cone of silence enveloped the room. The trapdoor opened and Little George climbed up.

Liz turned to face the wall. A familiar inertia draped over her mind, covering her like a blanket, clamping over her more securely than the ankle chains that pressed against her flesh. She stared at a crack in the wooden floor beneath her nose, just where the wall met the roof. Between the wooden slats and the rafter, she could make out the head of a large, exposed straight pike, several inches long, that some ­long-­forgotten carpenter had attached improperly, probably secure in the knowledge that no one would ever have their face close enough to the floor in that tiny, sweltering attic to notice it. She stared at the pike, blinking, not sure if, or even why, she was actually seeing it. She decided she was going mad, and guessed that it ­wasn’t gnawing hunger or physical pain that was driving her to insanity but rather the uncertainly of not knowing where her next round of suffering was going to come from. She laid her head against the floor, closed her eyes, and instantly fell asleep, dreaming of a story her uncle Hewitt told her long ago about a boy and his master.

Excerpted from Song yet Sung by Charles Frazier Copyright © 2008 by James McBride. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead Books, a division of Pengion Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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