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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Print Excerpt


Liz lay on the floor, dazed.

“I ­can’t get up,” Liz said. “Help me, somebody.”

But they were already gone, stepping over her and disappearing down the trapdoor. Only Big Linus and the old woman remained.

The old woman lay near the trapdoor, bent awkwardly, twisted in an odd shape. Big Linus gently reached over, grabbed her by the waist, and hoisted her on his wide shoulders like a sack of potatoes.

“Leave me, Big Linus,” the old woman said, her face twisted in agony. “I ­can’t stand it.”

Big Linus ignored her, swinging her around and descending down through the trapdoor.

The thought of being alone with Little George drove Liz to action. She rose on trembling legs, gingerly stepped over Little George, and followed the giant Negro down the steps, stumbling through the maze of the tavern’s dim rooms and outside into the backyard.

The glare of the rising sun jeered its greeting across the Maryland sky so forcefully that it seemed to suck the air out of her body, and Liz nearly collapsed from the sudden vacuum she felt. She saw the backs of the others fanning out across the high grass behind the tavern, running in different directions towards a nearby creek, men, women, and children, splashing across. She stumbled after the huge Negro, who carried the old woman towards the creek.

“Put me down,” the old woman said. “Put me down, Linus. I ­can’t go no more.”

The giant Negro laid the old woman on the bank of the creek, turned around, gave Liz a long, angry look, then took off after the others, his huge frame slowly sloshing across the creek.

Liz approached the old woman who lay on the bank. In the daylight her face looked grey and streaked. Her eyes had bolts of red across each pupil.

“­Good-­bye, then, miss. I ­don’t even know your name,” Liz said.

“I got no name,” the woman said. “Whatever name was gived me was not mine. Whatever I knowed about is what I been told. All the truths I been told is lies, and the lies is truths.”

“What’s that mean?” Liz asked.

The woman smiled grimly.

“I told you you was ­two-­headed,” she said.

Liz glanced at the others, whose backs were disappearing into the woods across the creek.

“Remember the code,” the woman said. “The coach wrench turns the wagon wheel. The turkey buzzard flies a short distance. And he’s hidden in plain sight. The blacksmith is handling marriage these days. ­Don’t forget the double wedding rings and the five points. And it ­ain’t the song, it’s the singer of it. It’s got to be sung twice, y’know, the song. That’s the song yet sung.”

“I ­can’t remember it all,” Liz said.

“Keep dreaming, ­two-­headed girl. There’s a tomorrow in it. Tell ’em the woman with no name sent you.”

“Tell who?”

“G’wan,” she said. “Git.”

“What you gonna do?”

The old woman smiled grimly again.

“I’m gonna wait till ­y’all run off,” she said. “Then I’m gonna climb down this bank on my own time and lie in that water till my name comes to me. One way or the other,” she said, “I ­ain’t coming this way again.”

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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