cover image The Queen of Palmyra

The Queen of Palmyra

Minrose Gwin, . . Harper Perennial, $14.99 (416pp) ISBN 978-0-06-184032-6

The protagonist of this affecting and disturbing bildungsroman, Florence Forrest, lives in Millwood, Miss., the small segregated town where her father, Win, a burial insurance salesman, is the proud leader of the local Klansmen. It's 1963, and Florence can't figure out why her mother, Martha, fears Win and focuses her attention on making runs to bootleggers. Florence spends days at her grandparents' house where she irritates the surly black housekeeper, Zenie (named for Zenobia, the queen of ancient Palmyra), and the afternoons with Zenie's family in Shake Rag, the neighborhood on the black side of town. Zenie has no particular affection for Florence or her kin, but tolerates the lot of them out of necessity. The civil rights movement is sweeping through the South, and when Zenie's pretty, ambitious niece, Eva, comes to town to sell insurance to earn money for college, Millwood will never be the same. This thought-provoking novel shows the terror and tragedy in one divided Southern community whose residents have no interest in reconciling. The blacks want their equal rights while Win and his followers would rather kill than relinquish power. (May)