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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  • First Published:
    Feb 2008, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2009, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lucia Silva

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“Let my hands a loose at least,” she said.

“Be quiet,” he grunted, and that was all, for quick as he had said it, she sat up and in one motion placed her chained arms around his neck. Holding the pike between her front teeth, she drove her head into his beautiful neck full force, drilling the pike deep in, striking the Adam’s apple from the side.

His roar was muffled by the awful spurt of air and blood hissing out his exposed esophagus. With one violent thrust he pushed her off and tried to rise, but the very chains that limited her movements to his purpose now clasped her to him, and her weight pulled him down to one knee. He shoved her away again violently, but she was pushing forward so hard her head rebounded as if on a rubber string and, still bearing the pike between her gritted teeth, she jammed into his neck a second time, so hard that she felt her teeth loosen up and felt one give way, the pike disappearing from her mouth into the folds of his wriggling neck.

Suddenly she felt the weight of another body slam against her. She saw the tattered white dress of the old woman to whom she was fastened stick her mouth to George’s ear and bite. There was a muffled roar from Little George, who dropped to both knees now, flinging the old woman away from him with a huge wrist.

Liz tried to pull away from him now, panicked, but it was too late. She felt bodies slamming against her as the others, all of them, women, men, and children, descended into a desperate, pounding, biting, silent, resolute mass of animalistic fury. With grunts, squeaks, and heavy breath, they descended on the sole caretaker of Patty Cannon’s house, beautiful Little George, drove him to the floor, and squeezed the life out of him.

Still, Little George was a powerful young man and did not warm to death easily. They were all walking skeletons, weak from hunger, and he flung them off like butterflies. He managed to regain himself for a moment and stood, gasping in desperate rage, air whooshing out his mouth and the hole in his neck. Liz was still clasped to him like an appendage when she suddenly felt the two of them being lifted from the floor and saw the huge face of Big Linus near hers. She heard an awful cracking sound, and as she was gently lowered to the floor, her chained arms still embracing Little George, she felt the horrid sensation of life drain from him. The others swarmed him again with renewed vigor now, as if by beating his dead body as it made its way to the cooling board they could vanquish the killer within themselves, for they were murderers now and knew it; that knowledge seemed to drive them to even further rage, so that even as they collapsed into a tangle of kicking, punching arms and legs around the lifeless body of Little George, they turned and fought each other, fighting out of shame, fighting out of humiliation, fighting for his keys, and, mostly, fighting to get clear of each other.

“Get off me,” Liz said. “God help me, y’all, get off. I ­can’t breathe.”

Yet, even she continued to strike Little George, punching and slapping him.

“Easy,” the old woman hissed. “Let ’em go, y’all. Let ’em go, children.”

Her words had the desired effect. After a few more kicks and slaps, they rose away from him and, working quickly, grabbed his keys and freed Liz’s hands and feet.

She lay on the floor, dazed, as a tall man with trembling hands silently worked the keys to free the others. The mechanisms to open the chains were clumsy and unyielding. Several did not come off at all, and four prisoners left the room with iron ankles still clamped to one foot. But the job was done quickly, and by the time the mob rose up to depart, Little George lay on the floor shoeless and naked, gaping at the ceiling, his pants, socks, pipe, jacket, and straw hat now the property of others. Several of them took a few extra kicks and punches at him as they departed, though he was beyond feeling.

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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