cover image RIGHT AS RAIN


Bev Marshall, . . Ballantine, $23.95 (416pp) ISBN 978-0-345-46841-3

"In the moonlight she fantasized that she and Browder were silver people, not black or white, but only different shades of pure sterling." The fantasy belongs to beautiful Crow, whose mother, Tee Wee Weathersby, cooks for Browder's mother, Euylis Parsons. Crow and Browder love each other truly, madly, deeply, but it's 1958 in Zebulon, Miss., and race is fate. Bestseller Marshall (Walking Through Shadows ) is an extraordinary storyteller. A master of spoken and internalized speech, she keeps the reader in intimate proximity to her large cast as she weaves her various plot threads, moving deftly from 1940 to 1968. There's laugh-aloud humor in the ferociously competitive friendship between Tee Wee and Icey Hamilton, who hires on as the Parsonses' maid and moves into the other tenant house on the farm; the scene in which the two women mud wrestle is priceless. And there is plenty of heartbreak, too, particularly when Icey loses her son Memphis in a senseless accident. Marshall's great triumph is her ability to convey the humanity of all her characters, male and female, black and white. Even those stock villains of Southern racism, the sheriff and the district attorney, seem victims of an inherited ethos. There's a touch of Hollywood in the long homicide trial at the end of the book, but Tyler Powers, the long-haired, Harvard-trained white lawyer whom Crow hires to defend her little brother, J.P., beautifully makes the point that in Mississippi of 1968, it's the whites who need to be freed. 5-city author tour. (Mar. 30)