Summary and book reviews of Chalktown by Melinda Haynes

Chalktown

By Melinda Haynes

Chalktown
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  • Hardcover: May 2001,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2002,
    352 pages.

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Book Summary

Melinda Haynes’s "first novel of immense and staggering power" (Pat Conroy, author of Beach Music) was an unexpected sensation, chosen for Oprah’s book club and selling more than half a million copies in hardcover. Now in the same devastatingly beautiful language that has won her critical and popular acclaim, Melinda Haynes returns to the country she knows so well -- the backwoods South of the 1960s -- to tell the story of a mysterious town and its inhabitants, each with their own afflictions and joys, each with their own secrets.


In sparsely populated George County, Mississippi, along a quiet dirt road lined by sharecropper houses, lies Chalktown -- a small village of folks who communicate mostly through the chalkboards hanging from their front porches. Down the road lives the Sheehand family: 16-year-old Hezekiah, his reckless sister Arena, his mentally disabled younger brother Yellababy, and their disaffected and often cruel mother, Susan Blair, whose husband has abandoned both the house and the family. One day, with Yellababy strapped to his back, Hez sets out for Chalktown, determined to plumb its mysteries, or maybe just to get away from his shabby home’s oppressive atmosphere. And, on that same spring day, the family he’s left behind will confront a tragedy that at once erases Hez’s bitter past and paves the way for a hopeful future. Armed with a gothic and spiritual sensibility reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor, Melinda Haynes weaves her characters’ lives and stories into an unforgettable tapestry of sorrow and salvation that confirms her place as one of our country’s most exciting and consistently brilliant new writers.

Book One
1961

Ask any man what the only good thing about George County is and he will likely tell you this: the only good thing about George County Mississippi is that it's so full of flat nothingness that nobody, not even Jesus, can sneak up on a body.

Excerpt from Chapter One

By the old pump shed, near where the holy yokes leaned, the late winter grass was worn down as old brown velvet. Slick and near napless, the path seemed straight and narrow as any good preacher might preach, for behind the trail sat his mother's house, spread out and pieced together, misshapen as sin. If ever there was a clear picture of salvation in Hezekiah Sheehand's mind, the worn-down strip of dirt stood to paint it. His brother strapped to his back, he reached around and patted the five-year-old's leg and wished Yellababy could smell the warmish winter air and appreciate it, or even notice the odor of goose shit muddying up the ground and make a face at that, but smells were ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Undisciplined floods of off-kilter prose choke this fitfully lyrical second novel of affliction and redemption in early 1960s Mississippi.

Library Journal

Haynes's brilliant debut novel, Mother of Pearl, explored the makeshift families forged by lost, beaten-down people struggling to survive in an indifferent world. Chalktown examines similar themes in an unforgettable tale of sorrow and salvation even for those who do not seek it. Highly recommended for larger public libraries or where Haynes's work is popular.

Kirkus Reviews

Second-novelist Haynes (Mother of Pearl, 1999) prunes back her lush plotting, while maintaining both an extraordinary style and a firm grounding in her native South of the 1960s, to produce a satisfying tale of violence and redemption . . . All the trappings of southern gothic -- death, race, religion, and violence among country folk -- coupled with big ideas about the place of God in these proceedings . . . Haynes lyrical prose will captivate readers . . .

Kirkus Reviews

Second-novelist Haynes (Mother of Pearl, 1999) prunes back her lush plotting, while maintaining both an extraordinary style and a firm grounding in her native South of the 1960s, to produce a satisfying tale of violence and redemption . . . All the trappings of southern gothic -- death, race, religion, and violence among country folk -- coupled with big ideas about the place of God in these proceedings . . . Haynes lyrical prose will captivate readers . . .

Time Out New York

With a gift for vivid prose and spot-on dialect, Melinda Haynes brilliantly weaves a tale of tragedy and salvation that will keep readers guessing to the very last line.

Baltimore Sun

Like Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner, from the lives of ordinary people Haynes crafts the extraordinary.

Time Out New York

With a gift for vivid prose and spot-on dialect, Melinda Haynes brilliantly weaves a tale of tragedy and salvation that will keep readers guessing to the very last line.

Baltimore Sun

Like Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner, from the lives of ordinary people Haynes crafts the extraordinary.

Reader Reviews
Pavlo Baker

Wow, what a refreshing voice. The characters are real yet unique, with interesting viewpoints and a much different prosective than the usual book fair. Could not wait to see what was going to happen next, and how it was going to be presented. Parts ...   Read More

Betsy Hennessey

Melinda Haynes is a gifted writer who has the ability to put complex human experiences into words. You will get to know her characters deeply, and yet there is so much mystery in them. Chalktown is very suspensful!

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