cover image Truth: Four Stories I Am Finally Old Enough to Tell

Truth: Four Stories I Am Finally Old Enough to Tell

Ellen Douglas. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $18.95 (221pp) ISBN 978-1-56512-214-7

After 40 years of exploring Southern life through fiction such as the NBA finalist, Apostles of Light, Mississippi native Douglas turns to nonfiction in these deeply felt reminiscences full of family skeletons, tragedies, crises and the ghosts of the Deep South. In ""Grant,"" her husband's uncle, dying of cancer at 82, befriends an illiterate, devoted black caretaker and nurse, while his white relations virtually abandon him. In ""Julia and Nellie,"" a tale of kinship, identity and religion, Julia Nutt, a family friend, defies convention and her Catholic upbringing by shacking up for decades with her married-but-separated Presbyterian first cousin, Dunbar Marshall. ""Hampton"" concerns Douglas's attempts to break down the wall of reserve and condescension surrounding her grandmother's African American gardener/handyman/ butler, Hampton Elliot. The final true-life tale is her convoluted investigation of the brutal execution by whipping and hanging of 30 slaves in Natzchez, Miss., in 1861, after a summary ""trial"" occasioned by apparently phony allegations of plotting a slave uprising. Douglas digs up a distant cousin's handwritten, firsthand account of the massacre and meditates on the sins of her slaveholding ancestors--none of whom, to her knowledge, were involved in this incident. At 78, Douglas has delivered a beautifully written book that is haunted by death, by the weight of the past and by the myths that hold together or sunder families and friends. Author tour. (Sept.)