One More River

Open Road Integrated Media  2011

 
The title refers to the old spiritual, One More River to Cross, and the story literally takes place near, around, and on the Mississippi River. Two men, father and son, Bernard Levy and Mickey Moe Levy, are each driven to extremes for the loves of their lives. The women, a beautiful black woman and a young Jewish woman, are unattainable to the men, but for different reasons. For Bernard in the south of the 1930s and 1940s it is obvious; for Mickey Moe Levy, in the 1960s, less so. He must prove to his girlfriend’s parents an acceptable Jewish bloodline to get permission to marry their daughter. Mickey’s family history went to the grave with his father in France during World War II. His quest to uncover the long kept secrets leads him into dangerous territory and ultimately reveals a formidable, brave, adventurous father as well as a determined, reliable son.

With fine craft, pivoting back and forth in time, the author illuminates “Southern” Jews. They are recognizably southern in a regional, secular manner, familiar in a cultural sense, and, all too familiarly, seen as a group apart. We are with them as their lives precede and then coincide with two of the most fought over social issues of the twentieth century: the civil rights movement and the women’s movement. The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 is both a backdrop for the intriguing plot and a foreshadowing of the enormous change to come to the South and to the country.

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


1. The title of this novel comes from a famous spiritual, “One More River to Cross,” which appears at the beginning of the book. What does this evoke for you? 

2. One More River revolves around parallel stories of two men—father and son—attempting to forge their paths in an uprooted, frequently hostile American South. Did you identify more with Bernard or with Mickey Moe? Why? In what ways might each of their journeys have been different if they were undertaken today? 

3. Beatrice Sassaport refers to “cues of proper behavior,” and states that they are necessary for her social interaction—so much so that she invents her own if a situation arises in which she feels lost! How did you feel about Beatrice Sassaport’s character at the beginning—and by the end—of the novel? As a mother, how does she compare to Rose Needleman? 

4. Paternity is clearly a running theme. How do different fathers act towards their children? What was your reaction, for example, to Lot Needleman’s parenting decisions? Which fathers does the novel seem to treat most charitably? 

5. “He learned that rough men felt fear, that women could bear pain, that a body could watch moonbeams dance on the river and go mad from the sight.” How did Bernard Levy’s lessons during his first career as a physician’s assistant influence his actions later in life? 

6. “Bernard was pure besotted with Aurora Mae.” To what extent does a Jewish man’s love for an African-American woman evoke the intersection of the Jewish and African-American experience in the segregated South? What elements of these two “outsider” groups relate to one another? 

7. “It was natural that Horace and Bernard would become best of friends.” In many ways, Bald Horace is the key to unlocking the Levy family history. How does the relationship between Bernard and Bald Horace evolve over the course of the novel? 

8. Aurora Mae says to Mickey Moe that after the flood, “Life belonged to those with a gun and those with gold. We had both.” Do you find inspiration in such a self-sufficient female character? What are your own thoughts on self-defense? 

9. “I don’t like guns, he said. Laura Anne looked at him as if he’d just said he didn’t care for sunshine or birdsong.” How does Laura Anne’s self-sufficiency compare with Aurora Mae’s? What are the similarities and differences between these two women? 

10. Ghost and spirits pepper the novel; as early as the first chapter, Mickey Moe recalls Laura Anne saying: “I like to find out first about the person settin’ right there in front of me, not all the old ghosts.” How do the characters alter their decisions or change their lives because of such ghostly influence? 

11. Women of color are often described, by the narrator and other characters, as seers, witches, prognosticators, or even moderately gifted meteorologists. Why do you think this is? 

12. The majority of One More River takes the form of a quest for legitimization of identity and paternity, but the question of identity turns out to be unpredictable. Bernard’s identity is faked, as is Moe’s paternal “good blood.” Paternity, relations, and “blood” are important to many of the characters, such as Laura Anne’s parents. In what ways does this issue of “good blood” still come up in today’s society? 

13. Mickey Moe convinces Laura Ann to lie to her parents with the example of his father’s deceptions. “Look at the lies he had to tell to find love and then protect it,” he says. “Was he wrong?” Given the Needlemans’ bias, do you think Mickey Moe and Laura Anne are ultimately justified in deceiving them about his background? Do you think that sincere love can excuse some dishonesty? 

14. Vietnam bookends Mickey Moe’s narration and the entire novel. Why might Vietnam have been chosen? Does a casualty or death during war lend a certain honor and dignity to men whose lives might otherwise have been considered sordid or disingenuous? What other connections exist between Vietnam and conditions in the American South during the novel’s time periods (early 1920s and 1960s)? 

15 If you were to post a two-sentence review on your Facebook wall or elsewhere, what would it say? Are there any passages that you’ve highlighted in the novel that you’d like to discuss with the group? 

16. If you’ve read Mary Glickman’s previous novel, Home in the Morning, how does this work compare to its predecessor? In what ways does One More River further the exploration of Southern-Jewish identity that was introduced in Home in the Morning?




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