Home in the Morning

Open Road Media  2011

 
The Sassaports of Guilford, Mississippi are an established Southern Jewish family thrown into the tumultuous civil rights movement of the 1960's.  They guard family secrets, struggle with racial and familial relationships, experience Northern vs. Southern sensibilities, and grow into change.

Thoughtful, kind, and gentlemanly Jackson Sassaport is the central figure of Home in the Morning.  His coming-of-age story and later life serve as the book’s catalyst as he learns to attune himself to a triad of special and different women.

There is his demanding and very Southern mother, Missy; his courageous Northern wife, Stella, and Katherine Marie, the black woman who has imprinted herself on his heart and mind.  Jackson must also deal with his fiendish brother, Bubba Ray, his stoic physician father, and the extended Sassaport clan.  These characters interact with servants, friends, townspeople, rednecks, activists, and those Yankees, with their “typical provincialism.”  Through them, Mary Glickman creates a story of love, hate, friendship, and healing.  

Glickman, who was born Catholic, is a convert to Judaism.  She now makes her home in the South, and skillfully reveals her understanding of Southern culture.  She draws the reader into her storytelling through the use of backstory, history, and intriguingly believable and flawed characters.  She captures the details, mood, and events of a place and time. Reading Home in the Morning provides a history lesson in black-white relationships, Southern Jewish culture, and the Civil Rights Movement.

The frequent flashbacks are temptingly offered and give clarity and understanding to the characters as their stories develop and bisect.  There are no quotation marks in this book, but this does not distract or hamper the reader. In fact, it is hard to stop reading as the story begs to be unfolded.

Interview

by Renita Last

Renita Last: The characters in Home in the Morning and One More River have such strong distinct personalities. Did you use any role models in creati ng these well-defined men and women?
Mary Glickman: I don’t think I had specific role models in mind, but I’ve always been att racted to people who are capable of passionate devotions to causes and others. I admire those people with strong passions and high ideals. Perhaps they have a foolish and a courageous will to love and live honestly. In my mind, when such men and women come together and come up against life’s cruel realities, that’s when you have great drama born. Sometimes they’re crushed, but they retain their nobility and sometimes they succeed. I love people like this.

RL: Your book titles are taken from spirituals. Why?
MG: One of the reasons I use spirituals for the titles is that, for me, it emphasizes the connection of Jewish and African-American lives in the South as well as their being an important cultural touchstone. Jackson tells Li’l Bokay on their fateful truck ride together that, “You can’t grow up in the South without learning a spiritual or two.” That’s pretty much true. There are no set in stone lyrics for spirituals. Traditionally they are meant to be an improvisation on a theme where a worshipper is supposed to get up and burst into song with his own soul-felt imprint on the lyrics. This aspect of spirituals also impressed me when talking about a culture that is fixed in many ways, a culture obsessed by history and how an individual comes to live independently within it. That resonated for me. In the spiritual, Home in the Morning, the singer takes old sins, puts them on the shelf, and shakes himself and that rings to me of the Old South-New South transition.

RL: Why are the themes of love, family, friendship, and loyalty so important to you?
MG: Without loyalty love is meaningless. As far as I’m concerned it’s a cardinal virtue. To be loyal requires self-abnegati on and courage. It’s not the same thing as even being 100% faithful or supportive. But loyalties conflict and crises define which loyalty is stronger. That’s why I like to put my characters in extreme situations to test them. It’s very easy to delude oneself about one’s attachments until push comes to shove. Friendship is very important to me. One thing I want to talk about are relationships that last forever despite conflict and troubles along the way. Family members die, spouses die, and you are left with your friends. You need friendships for a life well lived.

RL: Your books beautifully evoke time and place through abundant descriptive language and detail. How important are Southern speech and storytelling in your writing? Is there any specific reason you don’t use quotation marks? 
MG: Southern speech is magnificent. I love the way Southern speech lilts, the way it rises and falls. There’s a distinct creativity of metaphor that I haven’t seen in other parts of the country or it doesn’t hit me where it counts. It’s a springboard, an inspiration for me. When I started Home in the Morning I had this idea that I wanted it to sound like an oral narrative. As if someone were telling you a story on the front porch or by the fireplace. When someone tells you a story you don’t need them to be holding up their fi ngers making quote marks to tell you who is speaking. That idea intrigued me. It also allowed me to use patterns of speech that are not really correct in formal narrative. I thought I could capture the Southern métier much better this way.

RL: What first inspired your interest in Judaism? Where does your understanding of Jewish customs and traditions come from?
MG: I was always drawn to Judaism; even as a small child I was very much attracted to the Tanach. I remember as a young girl being taught by the good sisters who said that faith is a gift. When I got to be an adolescent I realized I didn’t get the gift , but my mother instilled in me a strong spiritual need. Joseph Campbell says religion is a music that speaks to the soul and Judaism was my soul’s music. It was no incidental air or etude in a minor key. Judaism wasn’t the only religion I investi gated to satisfy my innate needs, but it was where my soul’s poetry lay. I discovered the great Jewish writers and they struck a sympathetic chord in me. You could say the beauty of Talmudic logic and metaphor were first put to me by these writers of fiction.

RL: The positi on of Jews in Southern society, the differences between Northern and Southern Jews, and the tumultuous 1960’s are vividly presented in Home in the Morning. What is important for Northern Jews to know about Southern Jews? What is the “Yankee provincialism” you refer to? 
MG: I started out by wanting to write about the South. I wanted to break that enormous wall of the redneck stereotype. When asked about “Yankee provincialism” I think about the fact that most of our great American writers were Southerners. I also started thinking about important differences between the Southern and Northern Jewish experience. I think the North is very insular, but has an intellectual sophistication. Northerners are generally ignorant about how the South works and its values and culture. Southern Jews have a long history of acceptance in the South and were more welcome in the dominant society. They were well entrenched and accepted, by and large, without comment. They also shared a common culture with Southern blacks. I also realized race is the great American sin. It is our original sin and should be the great American literary subject. I’ve been fascinated by trying to mix all these elements together. 

RL: How do you think Southerners perceive Jews now? Do Jews still heed Bernard Levy’s grandfather’s warning to “never forget you are a Jew?”
MG: In the South, like anywhere else in the world, we tend to get the finger pointed at us in periods of crisis. I don’t think it does Jews anywhere well to forget they are a Jew no matter where they are. To forget that imperils us all. It is a truism of life. There hasn’t been a period of history Jews haven’t been discriminated against. I worry about young Jewish kids who don’t even have a cultural identity. 

RL: Home in the Morning and One More River are tied together by plot and characters. Will your future writings be about the South? What are you working on now? 
MG: I have a working title for my next book, Women Alone, and I am using some characters from both my novels. I realized I have several women characters who spend significant periods of time without a man. The ways that these women cope and survive with their lives alone are diff erent because the cultural demands are diff erent in different eras. I want to explore what happened to these women during these times. I’m not far along, but I’m thinking about how I’ll knit them together. I plan to keep writing from my unique perspective as a Southern Jew.

Discussion Questions

Courtesy of Open Road Meia

1. Mary Glickman states that “typical Yankee provincialism” inspired her to write Home in the Morning. What do you think she meant by this?

2. The central character, Jackson Sassaport, is a Southern Jew raised by an authoritarian physician father and an eccentric, stubborn mother in a small town outside Jackson, Mississippi. He’s described as good and humane yet tone deaf to the su1erings of the African Americans around him. Why do you think Glickman made him the heart of Home in the Morning? 

3. From early on it’s clear that Jackson has strong feelings for Katherine-Marie, a poor local African-American girl. What does his relationship with her represent? 

4. Jackson’s life is in many ways a struggle to please three very di1erent women: his traditional Southern Jewish mother, his outspoken Jewish wife from the North, and Katherine-Marie, his more reserved childhood friend and lifelong love. What does this triumvirate represent?

5. One of the great themes of Glickman’s personal life is transformation and conversion: She converted from Catholicism to Judaism, and moved from the North to the South. How do you think this theme a1ected and informed Home in the Morning?

6. Home in the Morning centers on a Southern Jewish family on the cusp of the civil rights movement. What do you think Glickman is saying about the di1erence between Southern Jews and Northern Jews?

7. Spirituality is a strong part of Glickman’s identity and personal journey. How do you see this reflected in her prose? 

8. The civil rights movement operates as the main backdrop of Home in the Morning. Why do you think Glickman chose this time period? What about it resonates in today’s world?

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